The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Characters
The main characters in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” are the ancient mariner, the wedding guest, and the hermit.
- The ancient mariner is an old sailor tormented by his murder of an innocent albatross and the subsequent curse put upon his ship.
- The wedding guest is a man who cannot pull himself away from the mariner and his tale.
- The hermit is a holy man from whom the mariner begs absolution at the end of his voyage.
Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 951
The Ancient Mariner
Although the ancient mariner is the narrator of the story within the poem and tells the wedding guest (and the reader) about this one voyage in detail, he reveals very little about himself. He is described as ancient, but we know nothing of his past. We do not even know his name.
Wordsworth wrote that one of the poem’s great defects was that the ancient mariner himself had “no distinct character,” and that one might expect someone who had been through so many extraordinary supernatural experiences to be more personally compelling. However, the poem presents the ancient mariner as one who is essentially passive. In his tale, many things happen to him, but after shooting the albatross, he does not take any definitive action: he merely survives.
This makes the ancient mariner, in his way, an “everyman” figure, much like the wedding guest. The mariner’s lack of any distinguishing characteristics allows the reader to concentrate on the events of the poem and its moral message. This is one of the reasons why neither the ancient mariner nor any other character has a name.
The Wedding Guest
The wedding guest is a flat character, defined initially by his impatience to get away from the ancient mariner and later on by fear and wonder at the old man’s tale. His name is never revealed, and the ancient mariner does not ask. In this way, he, like the mariner, can be an “everyman” figure who listens passively to the story and responds as an average man might. It is not clear, however, why the ancient mariner’s message should make him “A sadder and a wiser man.” This may be an indication of his pity for the ancient mariner and sadness at the fate of sinners.
The hermit is described as a good, pious, simple man; he is found kneeling in prayer at all times of day. Although he is perplexed by the strangeness of the ancient mariner’s ship, he does not seem frightened, as the pilot and his boy are. He enjoys talking to sailors and hearing about their adventures, which may be why he is in the boat with the pilot.
The pilot is described mainly by his function, which is to row out in a small boat and guide ships into the harbor. When he does this in the case of the ancient mariner’s ship, he is amazed and frightened by a sequence of strange events, culminating in the ship abruptly sinking. Before the ship sinks, he remarks that “it hath a fiendish look.”
The Pilot’s Boy
The pilot’s boy only has a very minor role to play in the poem, but he makes one original observation. When he sees how fast the ancient mariner rows towards the shore, the boy says that “The Devil knows how to row” and laughs as he does so. The reference to going “crazy” suggests that this laughter is maniacal and that the boy is frightened, as the pilot admits to being. The boy, however, seems to be attempting to hide his fear beneath a show of bravado.
Death is a skeleton who sails on a skeletal ghost ship with his partner, Life-in-Death. They play dice and he loses to her. He is portrayed as the less terrible of the two and is less clearly described.
Life-in-Death is a terrifying woman with golden hair, red lips, and skin as white as leprosy. She is nightmarish and chills the blood. She wins the game of dice with Death and selects the ancient mariner as her prey.
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The first voice that speaks at the end of part 5 is accusatory in tone, asking in the name of Christ whether the ancient mariner is the man who shot the “harmless Albatross” with his “cruel bow.” At the beginning of part 6, the voice also asks insistently what makes the ship move so fast. The voice is disembodied and is apprehended only by the mariner’s soul in his unconscious stupor. This voice seems to belong to a celestial being who communes with other spirits and is angry with the ancient mariner for the damage he has done.
The Second Voice
The second voice is softer than the first, and is compared with “honey-dew.” The spirit to whom it belongs is, like that of the first voice, unseen. Though the second voice is soft, it remorselessly observes that the ancient mariner’s great sufferings are not yet at an end. While the first voice questions, the second voice seems to be provided with the answers, though it expresses them in a mystical fashion.
Only one member of the crew is differentiated from the rest, and all readers are told about him is that he is that ancient mariner’s nephew. Like all the others, he has no name and no distinct personality. Indeed, the ancient mariner only mentions him after he is dead, when his corpse, inhabited by an angel, is working alongside the ancient mariner, pulling on the same rope.
The crew have a basic collective personality. They are fickle, initially condemning the ancient mariner for shooting the albatross, since they believe it brought with it the favorable wind. Then they decide that the mariner was right to kill the bird, as they decide it had brought the fog and mist. Finally, they condemn the ancient mariner again and curse him with baleful glares for bringing about their deaths. The curse remains in their eyes throughout the poem, and the mariner is haunted by it. Although the crew are characterized collectively, there must be some moral differences between them, as their souls go to different destinations when they die.