“We must not look at goblin men,/ We must not buy their fruits:/ Who knows upon what soil they fed/ Their hungry thirsty roots? (l. 42-45)”
During the Victorian Period, there was a great shift from agrarian society to industrial society. Class conflict was a large issue at the time. I see remnants of such an issue of the time in this passage. However, I also see an element of protecting innocence. Laura is warning her sister, Lizzie, of the dangers of the so-called “goblin men” below. One could easily interpret this as a need to abstain from sexual desire or even a sexual awakening. The men who call up to the young girls are described as goblins who sell fruit. This could be paralleled to men seeking courtship from the young girls or offering up flirtatious gestures. To keep their innocence untainted, the sisters cannot even gaze upon such “goblins” or the “fruit” they have to offer. Fruit is often used in sexual symbolism, and what these men are offering (or being with them more importantly symbolizes) could very easily be of a sexual nature. Fruit that is ready to be eaten has ripened and matured, as the men below most likely have sexually. Laura may be hindering her sister from losing her innocence and “ripening”, if you will.
In addition, there could (as I mentioned before) be an issue of social class between the sisters and the goblin men below. Laura asks, “Who knows upon what soil they fed/ Their hungry thirsty roots?” This could easily be the modern day equivalent of, “Who knows who they really are or where they come from?” The “soil they fed” upon could be paralleled to how one was brought up while still young, or still of “thirsty roots”. In this passage, Laura may fear her sister moving to a different social class by favoring one of the goblin men below. Granted, these characters (both stock and named) are living in the same area. So, there would not be a conflict of industrial and agrarian life. However, there could still be a difference in class between those who live high up in a home, as opposed to those who have to sell fruit in the streets for a living. Laura is the elder of the two sisters, and it could easily be argued that she is protecting both Lizzie’s innocence and class in this passage.