What narrative techniques are used in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?"

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One narrative technique in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is the use of a frame story. The poem begins with the narrator's story of how the mariner stops some wedding guests and bends their ear. Then, the mariner starts telling his story-within-a-story about his long and strange voyage. At the end of the poem, the narrator returns to speaking about the wedding guest. The mariner tells his tale as a flashback, which is another type of narrative technique in which someone retells events that happened previously.

In addition, the poem features poetic justice, another narrative technique in which evil actions are met with retribution. After the mariner kills the albatross, his ship eventually encounters horrid heat and all the men on board are killed, save the mariner himself. Therefore, his action is punished as his fortunes go from good to bad. 

The poem also contains the narrative technique of foreshadowing. When the strange boat nears the mariner's ship, the mariner believes he sees death on board the ship. Then, strange occurrences take place in nature:

"The hornèd Moon, with one bright star/ Within the nether tip./ One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,/ Too quick for groan or sigh,/ Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,/ And cursed me with his eye."

The sighting of the strange ship and the strange look of the moon and star foreshadow the death of everyone on board the boat. Only the mariner survives. 

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Several narrative techniques are employed. First, the poem is a frame tale. It begins with the old mariner stopping three guests on their way to a wedding. To one of these wedding guests, the old mariner tells his fantastic story. The poem concludes with the mariner finishing his conversation with the wedding guest. Therefore, the mariner's encounter with the wedding guest frames the main story of the voyage.

By beginning the story with the frame, the story then employs flashback, taking the reader back to the time of the voyage itself. The events are then related in chronological order.

An unusual technique, perhaps, is a dramatic technique. The mariner's telling the story is structured as a dramatic monolog, but from time to time, the narrator interrupts, thus returning the reader to the setting of the frame. The reader in this sense is watching a dramatic scene in which one "actor" tells a story to another "actor." In his poem, Coleridge gives the reader two separate stories. The mariner's effect on the wedding guest emphasizes the compelling nature of the mariner himself, as well as the story he has lived to tell.

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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