Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Who Is This Guy? the Mariner in Coleridge's the Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Who Is This Guy? the Mariner in Coleridge's the Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Article excerpt


As an archetypal figure, the Mariner is in the tradition of "hero myths" that we meet in popular literature, myths, and fables. He is anywhere and everywhere notwithstanding the differences in our cultures and beliefs. He is Adam, Jonah, Cain, Lazarus, Wandering Jew, Prometheus, Odysseus, and with so many other denominations that we come across in the tradition of an all-time struggle. Like them all, the Mariner goes through the unspeakable challenges of life and emerges triumphantly. As such his names could be many but he cannot be fixated into a single historical context. He eludes histories, cultures, religions, and geographies.

The Guy that is the Mariner

The Mariner appears to be a ghostly phantom engaged in an action of unbelievable dimensions. The gradual insinuation of his story grapples with those experiential realities that are human and intimately ours. This paper offers an analysis of his story to substantiate his identity. Like any other form of literature the Mariner's story revolves around life and has its universal appeal no matter how much stiltedly it is communicated. It speaks to and of universal human experiences and evokes similar emotional responses.1 Taken as a marathon struggle against all odds, the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"2 speaks of a spiritual rebirth in the midst of all degenerating allurements be they social, religious, political, supernatural, or/and superstitious. Coleridge describes this process in The Statesman's Manual as symbolic which means "translucence of the Special in the Individual or of the General in the Especial or of the Universal in the General, above all, by the translucence of the Eternal through, and in the Temporal" (Halmi et al 360). The poem's progressive unfolding testifies to Coleridge's contentions.

The Mariner in the Rime is a character with whom all readers relate. In fact Coleridge wants his readers to relate to the Mariner whom he does not christen perhaps due to that reason. He is part of a journey, travel, or voyage on which he does silly, strange, weird, and bizarre things. His actions, like those of any, have consequences. We relate to him on almost every level. All of us, at one point or another in our lives, have killed our albatrosses. We too, like the Mariner, pay the price all our lives though not necessarily in the same manner. In this he is part of all of us; he is around us; he is with us; he meets us every day. His physical voyage takes us on a tour of our dark side and confronts us with the one that we do not want to acknowledge. We partake in all that he does and faces and relive our dark moments exactly the way he does.

Apparently a very simple story in a very simple language (not considering its first version), the poem involves the reader on all levels of experience. On the face of it the Mariner kills an albatross and ends up suffering immensely for that. Metaphorically, the crime and its subsequent punishment are real human occurrences on daily basis. All that happens to the Mariner and his peers is certainly not physical; it happens on a deeper level. The questions facing us in this study are: what do the Mariner and his peers learn from these experiences? Is there any lesson or message for us in it? My contention is that the Rime is every person's story of coming to terms with oneself-this is the Mariner's voyage into the dark abysses of the human psyche where the dross and the best elements reside. This poem is a reflection of the good and the bad that humans are potentially capable of.

The Mariner's killing the bird and the subsequent sufferings along with his peers involve us in a moral dilemma: how very often due to one or another emotional attachment we wrong rights and right wrongs. The Mariner's colleagues oscillate like a pendulum between right and wrong. In a minute the sailors condemn the Mariner's act and say it was bad that the Mariner "killed the bird/That made the breeze to blow" (93-95). …

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