Social Sensitivity

In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Coleridge focuses on humanity’s relationship to the natural world. Coleridge makes it clear that the killing of the albatross brings dire consequences upon the mariner. In a larger sense, it is not his killing of the bird that is wrong, but the mariner’s-and by extension humankind’s-callous and destructive relationship with nature that is in error. Coleridge intends to confront this relationship and place it in a larger philosophical context. If the reader grasps the lesson that the ancient mariner learns from his experience, then there are social implications.

Although the mariner’s killing of the albatross, the terrifying deaths of his shipmates, and the grotesque descriptions of the supernatural spirits are disturbing, these elements are intended to develop the story, to illustrate how the mariner’s destructive act sets him apart, and to portray vividly the results of his act and the horrifying, repulsive world that he comes to inhabit because of it. The consequences are all the more terrible for having been set in motion by such a thoughtless act in the first place. Coleridge is working toward a goal-to portray the mariner’s development into a sensitive, understanding, and compassionate human being. In so doing, he aims to persuade the reader to reconsider his or her attitudes toward the natural world.

Part of Coleridge’s technique is to personify aspects of nature as supernatural spirits, yet he does not develop an argument for pantheism on any level. A great deal of Christian symbolism and some allegory are present-particularly at the end of part 4, where connections are made between suffering, repentance, redemption, and penance. These elements combine to form a rich texture of both natural and religious symbolism that can be profoundly moving.

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