The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Characters
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner book cover
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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.

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Characters

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

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

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

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

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.

The First Voice

The first voice that speaks at...

(The entire section is 951 words.)