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Post-structuralism – Analysis

Goblins and their fruits are central to ‘Goblin Market’, yet peripheral to the sisterly narrative. They come and go at dawn and evening; the ‘haunts of goblin men’ are liminal; emerging from a mossy glen to sell their fruit next to a brook. But what on earth are goblins? Entirely male, they tend their fruit in orchards. Besides familiar apples, pears and greengages, they offer a range of exotics: ‘Bright-fire-like barberries/ Figs to fill your mouth.’ (ll. 27-8).  Those barberries, the fruit of berberis vulgaris originally from the Barbary coast conceal a barb. There is something barbarous embodied in the goblins, something vulgar too. Should we give tongue to the slang meanings of gob, ‘mouth’, late Middle English: from Old French gobe, ‘mouthful, lump’, from gober, ‘to swallow, gulp’ (OED). Gob as a verb means ‘to spit’ while gobble is noted in Jonathon Green’s Dictionary of Slang as late nineteenth century slang for fellatio. Drawing a figleaf over this, there’s the Standard English ‘gobble’, eating hurriedly and noisily. The OED gives the etymology as: French gobelin (obsolete, recorded only from the 16th cent.; but in the 12th cent. Ordericus Vitalis mentions Gobelinus as the popular name of a spirit which haunted the neighbourhood of Évreux). Perhaps < medieval Latin cobalus, covalus, < Greek κόβᾱλος a rogue, knave, κόβᾱλοι, wicked sprites invoked by rogues. Laura and Lizzie, her sister, know ‘We must not look at goblin men,/ we must not buy their fruits:’ (ll. 42-3) – yet Laura is curious.

One had a cat’s face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat’s pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry.
She heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather. (ll. 71-80)

Goblins are a monstrous spectacle, their collective voice cooing all together. They are animalistic part-objects, a cat’s face, a tail; one moving like a rat, another crawling like a snail. The Australian marsupial wombat was kept as a pet by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the ratel, or honey badger could be seen at Regent’s Park Zoo. Both had a reputation for pugnacious behaviour; they signify Otherness. Ratel uncannily repeats ‘rat’ with ‘tell’, besides aurally signifying ‘rattle’ – both instrument and the sound produced. Wombat incorporates womb; the wombs of Laura and Lizzie will bear fruit in the form of children in the final part of the poem.    Altogether the goblin men embody alterity, despite ‘dove’ suggesting the Holy Spirit; the fact that the cooing is ‘full of loves’ in the plural suggests polymorphous perversity.  Described as ‘Hobbling down the glen’ (l. 47): are they crippled, like Oedipus? Have they emerged from the earth? Hobbled suggests fetters or the echo of Hob, the devil as in Hob-goblin; John Bunyan’s ‘Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend’ in Pilgrim’s Progress. These goblins speak English, ‘With their shrill repeated cry,/ Come buy, come buy’ (ll. 89-90). One is ‘parrot-voiced’ and cries ‘“Pretty Goblin” still for “Pretty Polly.”’ (ll. 112-13).  Can men, even goblins, be pretty?  The speech of parrots and other talking birds mimics human conversation, an amusing though sometimes disturbing simulacrum. Are the goblins an allegory of men, specifically are all males goblins, or do they represent a desire within Laura?  Indeed, do we see them as they are, or entirely through Laura and Lizzie’s eyes?

Dehiscence:  from goblins to their fruits: ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits.’  (Matthew 7: 15). In the final section of the poem, Laura explains to her own and her sister’s children the dual nature of goblin fruit: ‘Their fruits like honey to the throat / But poison in the blood.’ (ll. 554-5)

Goblin fruit is a pharmakon; this word in Greek is a drug (from which pharmacy derives), it is ambiguously a poison or its remedy, the cause of illness or its cure. The goblins will not take Lizzie’s penny but offer her their fruit as a gift; gift in German means poison. To give or take a gift incurs ties of mutual obligation. They eventually force their fruits upon her: ‘Held her hands and squeezed their fruits/ Against her mouth to make her eat.’ (ll. 406-7) Covered in juices, she returns to Laura, enjoining her to:

Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from Goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew
Eat me, drink me, love me. (ll. 468-471)

This is an extraordinary turning of Christ’s words at the Last Supper which Christians celebrate with bread and wine at the Eucharist (Matthew 26: 26-27) ‘Take, eat; this is my body….Drink ye all of this.’

Goblin fruit is a metonym for the original forbidden fruit of Genesis. God tells Adam and Eve that they may eat the fruit of any tree in Eden, except for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil on pain of death. Eve is tempted by Satan, she offers it to Adam.  After both have eaten, they make themselves aprons of fig leaves and are ashamed. This passage is generally interpreted as knowledge of human sexuality while the paradox that God created the tree and placed it in Eden in the first place, is interpreted as creating human free will. (Genesis 2 & 3). In Hebrew, the specific variety of fruit is not mentioned, in Western Europe the fruit was historically identified as apple – there is a pun on the Latin mālum ‘evil’ and the word for ‘apple’ malum which emerges in the Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate.

Lizzie recollects the story of Jeanie who took the gifts of the goblins and ate their fruit: ‘She thought of Jeanie in her grave,/ Who should have been a bride; / But who for joys brides hope to have/ Fell sick and died.’ (ll. 312-15) The implication is that Jeanie tasted the forbidden joys of sex before marriage; fruit, death and carnal knowledge are bound together. We might regard ‘Goblin Market’ as a hauntology, a memorial to Jeanie, the first to be ‘goblin ridden’.

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