How are the themes of crime, punishment, and redemption developed in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The mariner's journey is a spiritual one, as well as a fantastic sea voyage, and the profound nature of his experience is the force that drives him to share his story, long after it occurred. The mariner's crime is that he killed the albatross, for no other reason than that he could and chose to exercise his selfish will. The symbolism of the albatross can be interpreted in many ways. It lived as a part of God's natural world and had served as a loyal guide and good omen for the sailors. The ship's crew had "hailed it in God's name," according to the old mariner, "[a]s if it had been a Christian soul." 

Although the mariner's crew at first condemns him for killing the bird, they soon approve of his actions, and the mariner's punishment for slaying the albatross falls then not only on himself, but on them, as well. Much of the poem is subsequently devoted to detailing the terrible and supernatural ordeals experienced by the men, until the mariner is left to suffer alone, filled with bitterness and hatred.

The mariner's redemption occurs only when his heart changes. Alone under the moon and a few stars, only then does he truly observe the beauty of the natural world around him, and when he does, "A spring of love gushed from [his] heart." 

The poem continues at length to complete the mariner's physical and spiritual journeys, but his lesson has been learned. At the conclusion of the poem, he leaves the Wedding Guest with these words:

He prayeth best, who loveth best

All things both great and small;

For the dear God who loveth us,

He made and loveth all.

Selfish pride and selfish will no longer live within the mariner. His redemption is complete.

Read the study guide:
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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