1800s Victorian Era vs. 2000s Americas: Has Rape Culture Changed?

The language used in The Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti is a clear indication of how women were treated during that time, as well as the overall plot of the work. Within the plot of what happens to Laura and Lizzie, we can clearly see a parallel of the stigma that is palpable in our patriarchal society nowadays. There has been very little change in these times of how men (merchants, goblins) talk to women, as well as how society discusses those discriminations and later, violences. The Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti clearly shows how women were thought of in the Victorian Period in their dependence on men, sexual desires, and social stigma attached to sex. In the literary language and plot of the story, the readers are able to gain insight into what it meant to be a woman during that time period.

Within the reading, there is the clear distinction of what women should and shouldn’t expect and provide and be a part of in the Victorian culture of that time period. The sexualization begins early, when the merchants (goblins) call to Laura and Lizzie, by telling them only in line 30 “‘Sweet to tongue and sound to eye; / Come buy, come buy’” (Rossetti, Line 30). It feels similar to catcalling nowadays, and how women can’t walk down the street without feeling attacked or objectified. In this case, Laura and Lizzie were seen as the characters that the merchants (goblins) wanted something from, which we later find out, is something that is even more sexualized. From the beginning, the merchants (goblins) are discussing these women’s tongues and yelling to them to buy their fruit, and the notions of sexualization are thus brought to light in the very early stages of the story.

As readers we also see the stages of victim blaming and how it is so easy to do so, even in unclear, Victorian literature that is proving the dismissal of sex. As we read on and see Laura interact with the merchants (goblins), and begin to be hurt and become animalistic by their fruits, we also see how the townspeople react to her interacting with these merchants (goblins) and in her buying of the fruits by telling her “‘Laura, Laura, / You should not peep at goblin men’” (Rossetti, Line 48). Out of context, that line could easily be taken and understood as one person just looking out for the next person when in reality, the repetition of Laura’s name is understood to be condescending in nature. This condescending nature is then representative of the victim blaming that begins and is recognizable in literature, as well as in society.

All of these statements are further represented and understood in the connection to the real world and seeing how, if at all, we’ve changed in any way in response to the world in Victorian period. The victim blaming of that time period is not all that different from the victim blaming of this time period. For example, not so long ago, just March 10 of 2017, a judge was accused of victim blaming while sentencing a rape case, justifiably so. In one of her last sentiments as the judge of that case, Judge Kushner stated that “‘[Women] are entitled to do what they like but please be aware there are men out there who gravitate towards a woman who might be more vulnerable than others’” (Rawlinson). Is this sentiment better than telling a woman she has to know better than to look at the merchants (goblins)? How do those two sentiments compare with each other in responses to sexual assault and/or violation of a woman? Frankly, there is no difference. Both the townsperson in the story and the judge from 2017 believe that it is a woman’s duty to not be violated, because they shouldn’t “look the goblins in the eye,” or “be more vulnerable than others,” and that in it of itself is perpetuating rape culture from the 1800s as one in the same with the 2000s, which is discussed more thoroughly in this news outlet as well.

http://www.nbcnews.com/video/disrupt/53329846

As we read on and the sexualization becomes more and more obvious – and almost uncomfortable – we begin to understand, subconsciously, how the interactions between women and men are meant to be in heterosexual, emphasis on the sexual, relationships. The language that is continually used throughout the reading drives that point home subconsciously within the reader, an example of which is obvious when we are introduced to the action of when Laura is drinking from the fruits, as she “then sucked their fruit globes fair or red: / Sweeter than honey from the rock. / Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,’” and is later described as “she sucked and sucked and sucked the more / Fruits which that unknown orchard bore; / She sucked until her lips were sore; / Then flung the empty rinds away” (Rossetti, Line 128 and line 134).

It’s important to state that as we go through the reading, we go along with Lizzie as she gingerly goes to the merchants (goblins) in order to get more fruits for her sister, and we see a different side of the merchants (goblins) than we had seen before, as they get aggressive and more pushy with her, beginning with “squeez[ing] and carress[ing] her,” and then quickly going to calling her names, pushing her, and physically hurting her (Rossetti, Line 349). It becomes clear that she is disrespected as a woman in her desires – which in this case, is to just take the fruits home and not eat them – and the merchants (goblins) will continually disrespect her, showing her that her desires don’t matter to them. This is the first aggressive interaction with the merchants (goblins), but we begin to see their true side and the true testament to who they are and what the person means to them. In this case, the merchants (goblins) overpowered Lizzie physically, in order to violate her as they “laughed in heart to feel the drip / Of juice that syruped all her face,” and we see the disrespect that was palpable in that story as well as understandably in that time period, due to the mirroring effect of the time period representing the literature (Rossetti, Line 424).

Through all of these notions of victim blaming, aggression, catcalling, and the language used within the plot line of the story, it becomes prevalent to understand how our world has been shaped by this subconscious, underlying idea that women are not as deserving as men are. The women are nothing but disrespected in this reading, and the only people that do respect them are themselves and each other (which in it of itself is even questionable and arguable). The merchants (goblins) represent the patriarchy as discussed prior, and the women are continually seen through the merchants’ (goblins’) eyes as those that can provide whatever they desire, which is in this case, to make them eat fruit, in a way that will later on hinder them, their lifestyle, and debase them in society and their subconscious mindset of where they stand as women in this world, thus pushing women into subordination.

Works Cited

Catcall Definition.” Mirriam Webster Dictionary, 28 Mar. 2018,

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/catcall. Accessed 18 Apr. 2018.

Finney, Karen, editor. “NBC News.” NBC News, 20 Oct. 2013, http://www.nbcnews.com/video/

disrupt/53329846. Accessed 18 Apr. 2018.

The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Unlimited, 10 Mar. 2017,

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/10/

judge-accused-of-victim-blaming-during-sentencing-comments-in-case.

Accessed 18 Apr. 2018.

Sly, Andrew, editor. Goblin Market; The Prince’s Progress; And Other Poems.

Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/16950/pg16950.html. Accessed

18 Apr. 2018.

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