Ancient Mariner Wedding Guest Analysis Essay

Critical Analysis Of Coleridge's "The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner"

Samuel Taylor Coleridge presents a complex web of themes and symbols within the seemingly simple plot line of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The story of the seafarer with the 'glittering eye' (1.13) and his puzzling tale at sea told to an unwilling listener, the Wedding Guest, unfolds into a multifaceted array of planned sequences, heavy religious undertones, and hints at a biographical account of Coleridge's past. If one reads The Rime of the Ancient Mariner simply as a tale at sea, the poem stands as a remarkable one with its continuous simple rhyme scheme and easy flow of speech. And if one reads deeper into the intricate symbolism, themes and significant subject matter, Coleridge's masterpiece becomes even more brilliant. An examination of the poem on both levels proves Coleridge's genius.

The plot line is told in the third person and is about the Mariner's first person account of his trip at sea. A narrative effect is accomplished with this choice, and although it takes away from the poetic feel, it gives the poem a more story-like flow. Characters include a protagonist, the Mariner, and a listener, the Wedding Guest, presumed to be the audience. Coleridge introduces his tale by describing the old, gray-headed sailor who approaches three young men headed for a wedding celebration and compels one of them, the groom's next-of-kin, to hear his story. At first the intrusion is resented, but the sailor's story becomes remarkably compelling. The listener falls captive to the building suspense, responding with fear, and later with horror as the tale unfolds.

The Mariner tells of a storm at sea, how he and his crew were blown off course towards the South Pole, and how a good omen, an albatross, came to guide them back to the north. But the good omen soon turns into a nuisance. The Mariner shoots it, bringing bad luck to the ship and crew, as he showed no regard for living things. Death and his mate, Life-in-Death, come to the ship and battle over who will control. Death wins the ship; Life-in-Death wins over the Mariner, sparing his life, but giving death as the crew's fate. For seven days and seven nights the Mariner is forced to confront the open, accusing eyes of his dead shipmates. He curses the sea creatures that squirm around him, proving to Life-in-Death that the Mariner has not learned his lesson. Only when the Mariner praises the living things, when he "blessed them unaware", (1.285) is the curse broken. Spirits then fill the bodies of his dead crewmates, and the ship sailed homeward. Soon the spirits depart and are replaced by "A man all light, a seraph man"(1.490) that shines light on the homeland. A small rescue boat comes alongside the Mariner's ship and a loud noise rushes through the water, splitting and sinking the boat, throwing the Mariner into the sea. He is brought into the boat...

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The Wedding-Guest is forced to hear the Mariner's tale when he is attending a wedding as "next of kin." He has no choice in the matter, and he "listens like a three years' child" (15). Throughout the poem, the Wedding-Guest states that he fears the Mariner, yet he remains spell-bound listening to the Mariner's story. This brings us to the question posed: Why is the Wedding-Guest sadder and wiser at the end?

First of all, it appears that the Mariner does not randomly choose the people to whom he tells his tale. We learn near the end of the poem from the Mariner that the "moment that his face I see, I know the man who must hear me" (589-590). Therefore, the young Wedding-Guest needs to hear this tale of sin, atonement, and redemption that echoes the principles of Christianity. It could be assumed that the Wedding-Guest may be on the same path as the Mariner who shot the albatross with his crossbow, thoughtlessly committing a crime against God and nature.

After hearing the tale of the Mariner's crime and his suffering, the Wedding-Guest has been forced to consider the results of sin. He also has been taught the lesson to treat all of God's creations with love. Consider Christian religion during Easter and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Believers are sadder and wiser during this Christian observance when they revisit the story of Jesus carrying the cross and His suffering to redeem mankind.

As the Mariner gives his testimony, the Wedding-Guest realizes the consequences of sin and is forced to understand the darker side of human nature. He is sadder and wiser.

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