Thursday, February 25, 2010

Christian Allegory in Marinere

While we discussed the abolitionist interpretation of The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere at length on Tuesday, I thought it would be interesting to also explore the Christian allegory that was extremely popular for a long time. From this perspective, the poem is viewed as a story of sin and redemption. The killing of the albatross reflects the fall of humanity, either in original sin, the crucifixion of Christ, or any other Biblical betrayal. From this sin, the mariner plunges into a purgatory of isolation. The albatross hung around his neck is symbolic of that sin. One source (I forget which) suggested that even the context of the mariner's story presented it as a Christian allegory: supposedly, the penance of having to tell everyone about his sin was not unique. In addition, the multitude of crazy gothic images may be interpreted in various ways to reflect spiritual concepts like hell, baptism, angels, etc. This interpretation of the poem is supported by the role of the hermit, the mariner's desire to pray, and other explicit Christian references.

While all of these elements are present in the poem, I am surprised that this interpretation continues to dominate. I am much more convinced that Christian elements were more a rhetorical tool than the central theme of the poem. However, upon my first reading of the Marinere, I would have never suspected the deep political ramifications that we discussed in class.


  1. I am also surprised in a sense that such an interpretation continues to dominate. However in a way it makes a lot of sense because that interpretation is the least political controversial. Reading the poem as an abolitionist poem in the eyes of a lot of people takes it out of the conversation of mainstream literature and makes it something to only be discussed in the terms of that specific political movement that inspired some of its sentiments.

  2. I'm glad you posted this because while I think that slavery is the dominant theme and message of the "Mariner," the Christian allegorical tools cannot be overlooked. I agree with both you and Nate though that even though we are now in the very "progressive" 21st century, the safe Christian allegorical reading dominates. But perhaps it is still just too "weird" for people to understand or even relate it to slavery, especially if they are not well-versed in slave trade and slavery history. It's a complicated poem, and a fascinating one.