Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
The Ancient Mariner
The Ancient Mariner, a somewhat mysterious figure. The poem deals with two separate times, the time of the voyage and the time of the Mariner’s retelling. Facts helping to date the time of the voyage are that the Mariner uses a crossbow rather than a firearm and that his ship is the first ever to sail into the Pacific Ocean, thereby preceding Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage of 1520. He is evidently a Catholic, because he twice calls on the Virgin Mary and also invokes other saints. As for the time of the retelling, there is only a general sense that the Mariner is perceived as belonging to an earlier generation. There is not enough information about the wedding to know whether it was Catholic or Protestant, and the vesper bell toward the end of the poem could belong to either faith. The bassoon mentioned toward the beginning, however, would not have been possible before the sixteenth century. In a fragment of conversation recovered in the twentieth century, Samuel Taylor Coleridge once remarked that the Mariner was in fact a young man while on board the ship and that he was retelling the story fifty years later.
The Wandering Jew
The Wandering Jew, a traditional figure in European literature. He is a blasphemer condemned to wander the earth until the second coming of Christ because he had mocked Christ while He was bearing the Cross on his way to Calvary. The legend was believed in late medieval...
(The entire section is 822 words.)
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Themes and Characters
There are several subthemes in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," relating to Christianity and the supernatural, and two primary themes. The first primary theme concerns the potential consequences of a single unthinking act. When the mariner shoots an albatross, he does it casually and without animosity. Yet this impulsive, destructive act is his undoing. Similar to other Romantics, Coleridge believed that the seeds of destruction and creation are contained each within the other. One cannot create something without destroying something else. Likewise, destruction leads to the creation of something new. The loss of the mariner's ship, shipmates, and his own former self ultimately leads to the regeneration of the mariner.
This process of destruction and regeneration introduces the poem's second main theme. The mariner gradually comes to realize the enormous consequences of his casual act, even as he struggles to accept responsibility for it. To do this he must comprehend that all things in nature are of equal value. Everything, as a part of nature, has its own beauty and is to be cherished for its own sake.
This realization is suddenly apparent when the mariner spontaneously appreciates the beauty of the sea snakes; his heart fills with love for them, and he can bless them "unaware." The moral of the tale is manifest in the ancient mariner's final words to the wedding guest: "He prayeth best, who loveth best/ All things both great and small;/...
(The entire section is 476 words.)