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Summary: the Use of Marxist Criticism the "Goblin Market"

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Marxist criticisms involve the utilization of ideas and beliefs generated by Karl Marx. It involves analyzing the social structure, such as class, culture, and race including the distribution of power and wealth in a society. Utilizing Marxist criticism, we can further delve under the poems deceivingly innocent and child-like facade and better understand the socioeconomic relationships and social justices that took place during this time period, the Victorian era. Through the use of Marxist criticism, the “Goblin Market” by Christina Rosetti becomes a social commentary that explores the conflicts between the proletariat and bourgeoise in a capitalist society and seeks to debunk social justices.

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Rosetti’s impressive use of character gives way to a deeper acknowledgment of how a capitalist society works. In the poem, the goblin men are viewed as the powerful capitalists while Laura is portrayed as their helpless proletariat victim. On the other hand, Lizzie acts as the enlightened revolutionary who triumphs over the capitalist market. The power and control of the goblin men comes from their innate ability of temptation and seduction. The pride in which they carry themselves can be noticed as the goblin men “laugh” when they see Lizzie approaching. This is suggestive of their easy assumption of their own power in regards to others. Rosetti’s use of metaphors when describing the goblin men as “clucking and gobbling” reduces their status to those of farm animals. The use of similes is apparent when comparing the goblin men’s animal-like characteristics, “cat-like and rat-like” . Their herd mentality is prominent in lines such as “Fluttering like pigeons/ Gliding like fishes/ chattering like magpies”. It is evident that they are not men, but animals and those at the bottom of the food chain. The power for which they boast about is simply an illusion that can be compared to the mindless workers within a modern-day capitalist economy.

In the poem, the goblin’s market represents a monopoly. As the sole owners of the monopoly, the goblins have all the power, rendering the protagonists, Lizzie and Laura, powerless. The marketplace of the goblin men represents a capitalist economy, where people own goods and businesses privately and are free to set their own prices. Since there is no competition, the goblin men are allowed to set a monetary value to their goods and commodities or exchange for other resources. Laura does not have the money to pay for the fruits, so they allow her to “buy from us with a golden curl”. This gives the goblin men the upper hand, hence reasserting their power in the economy. As the heads of the monopoly, the goblin men are the only suppliers of the fruit that their consumers are so dependant on. Under Marxist criticism, capitalistic societies are characterized by the unequal distribution of material goods. This unequal distribution of goods leads to a social stratification. The division between the classes of a proletariat and bourgeoise are apparent in this poem through the characters of Laura, Lizzie, and the goblin men.

The power of consumers in a capitalist society as described by Marx is portrayed through Lizzie’s character. Lizzie’s “consumer power” is dependant on her wealth, “she put a silver penny in her purse” . Acknowledging the fact that she owns a purse and there may be other coins in her purse gives her the freedom from the constraints of a capitalist economy. Therefore, it is those who have the means to “buy”, who are able to free themselves from the constraints of the system that enslaves them. On the other hand, for the penniless Laura, it seems impossible for her to escape the fantasy of owning something for what she cannot afford. This never-ending thirst for acquiring new goods without having the funds to support it is fundamental to Marx’s theory on labour power. The goblin men exploiting Laura’s inability to pay for the fruit suggests that the working class is exploited via temptations by the industry. She is thus reduced to selling parts of herself by cutting off a lock of her hair at the goblins’ suggestion, “you have much gold upon your head” . This also explains the importance of natural resources in an economy as monetary value can be added to whatever the seller finds viable. The suggestive nature of putting a price upon natural resources such as Laura’s hair confirms the inevitability of her demise. Without money, Laura is powerless against the temptations of society and is compared to a pale, insipid moon rather than being a life-giving sun, “She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn, to swift decay and burn, her fire away” . If the poem is a “praise to consumer power”, it is in equal measure an expose of the utter powerlessness of she who lacks the means of consumption.

In the end, Lizzie’s triumph over the goblin men results in the collapse of their economy from within. Once the fruit had been eaten; Lizzie could no longer go back, which in turn lead to the vanishing of the goblin’s market. This is suggestive of the interdependence that exists between the bourgeoise and proletariat; without the former, the latter ceases to exist. Marxism states that the power in society lies within the people who have more money or goods and that the class struggle can only be ended by a revolution from the proletariat, the working class. Rosetti displays the class stratification between the two sisters and the goblin men, the latter being more powerful and controlling in the society. The shift between the class status throughout the poem can be seen as Lizzie, a proletariat, fights back and the overthrowing of the bourgeoise occurs.

The overall tone and use of dactylic and trochaic feet that Rosetti adopts in the poem emphasizes the mindless and repetitive nature of the existence of the goblin men, “come buy, come buy”. Interpreting their lives as “little men” reveals that there is no freedom for them to become anything else and that in fact they are trapped in their daily tasks as merchants. From this perspective their power dwindles; far from being the owners of their industry as they are representing the hands and physical labour of the industry. The goblin men are stuck in their merchant lives not pertaining to anything bigger and thinking their contributions to society are greater than they truly are. However, there is no freedom for the goblin men as the illusion of power overcomes their ability to realize the truth of how a capitalist society works.

The “Goblin Market” was initially intended to simply be an entertaining child’s fairy tale. However, when the poem is analyzed from different perspectives, such as through a Marxist lens, we can better understand the socioeconomic status and the role of class, culture, and race in a society. As a result, this poem serves as a social commentary, rather than a simple child’s tale. The triumph of Lizzie over the goblin men presents the revolutionary uprising of the proletariat over the bourgeoise. The many flaws of a capitalistic society are apparent through the economy being monopolized by the goblin men. The monopolized marketplace represents the unequal distribution of money and goods that leads to a class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoise causing social injustice. 

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