In the “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti, Laura wants to buy fruit from the goblins, but she doesn’t have any money. The goblins tell her she can pay with some of her gold hair, which she cuts and gives to them (Rossetti 116-129).
“Gold” or “golden” appears 15 times in the poem. Usually thought of as a precious metal, such as in the goblins’ “golden dish” (Rossetti 58), there is powerful imagery in the sisters’ golden hair. Laura’s gold hair, which is literally a part of herself, has a different, deeper value then gold metal, which is more cold and superficial. The value of gold is emphasized in this passage by comparing it to lesser metals, “copper” (118) and “silver” (119). The order is significant, starting with the least valuable metal and working up to gold. If the order is truly from least to greatest, then the gold “on the furze” (a plant with yellow flowers), is more valuable than copper or silver, and lastly, Laura’s “precious golden lock” (126) is the most valuable of all.
The title, “Goblin Market”, includes the word “market”, which is associated with buying and selling, trading one thing in for another. In fact, not one of the three girls pays for the fruit with money. Laura’s lock of hair foreshadows the price Jeanie pays for the fruit (her life), and later, the price Lizzie pays (beating, and possibly rape).
Towards the end of the passage, after Laura cuts her hair, “she dropped a tear more rare than pearl” (127). “Pearl”, like gold, is valuable in a monetary sense. A “tear”, like the hair, is valuable in a human sense. This line, quite directly, states that a tear (human cost) is more rare (valuable) than pearl (monetary cost).
In the passage, Laura is willing to give up a piece of herself in exchange for the unknown benefits of the fruit. People in Victorian England, like Laura, could be seen as trading in a part of themselves for the unknown world of industrialization. Technology moved very quickly during the Victorian Period, and its effects on the future weren’t known. The poem could be cautioning people against trading their human values for the material world of industry. Also during this time, we see a growing middle class. The poem reaches out to those concerned with money, urging them to remember that some things are more valuable than gold.