What is the effect of the narrative framework of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”?

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amymc | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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The "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is presented mainly in traditional ballad form, which creates a type of hypnotic, sing-song narration into which the reader is drawn. This story, presented in the "frame story" style, layers two separate narratives which tie together to lead the reader to the mariner's ultimate moral.

The outer frame engages the reader, who, in a sense, becomes the wedding guest.  The reader, as the guest, is compelled to hear the story regardless of his other desires or obligations.  The reader must sit and listen "as a three years' child" (Rime I, 15) to the mariner's horrifying tale.

The inner frame exemplifies the Romantic tradition of introducing supernatural elements and periods of self-reflection.  The reader joins the mariner as he commits a senseless act against nature and must thus endure the deaths of each man on the ship, periods of extreme thirst, and even an intense desire to die.  His redemption occurs when he realizes that

all things that inhabit the natural world have an inherent value and beauty, and that it is necessary for humanity to recognize and respect these qualitiess (Overview).

The mariner then is able to return home but with one caveat.  He must continually spread this message.  He has been, in a way, transformed into God's messenger:

I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach (Rime VII, 72-75).

This obligation implies that the reader, too, must hear this tale and understand its significance.  As readers, we all learn from the mariner's experience.