Comparison of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Frankenstein
In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mary Shelley recount their two distinct tales on the wonders of the natural world and life and death. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem that conveys the story of an old mariner that endured a tragic sea voyage. In Frankenstein Shelley narrates the tale of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a creature that is not what he expected. Both The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus converge in terms of themes, structure, and figurative language.
Multiple themes are shared between Frankenstein and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Isolation is one of the themes explored in both pieces of writing. In Frankenstein, the creature is isolated from society due to his appearance. The creature starts his life as a pure entity longing for compassion and companionship but is soon rejected by society. Shelley wrote, “Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred” (Shelley). By comparing himself to Satan the creature emphasizes the extremities of his alienation. Even Satan, a figure that is infamously hated, was still not condemned to live totally alone. He was initially spurned by Frankenstein, and continually rejected by society, leaving him with nothing to turn to besides anger and violence. Shelly utilizes this theme in order to portray the superficiality of society where people are judged based upon looks, and abnormalities are shunned.
Moreover, Coleridge starts his poem with, “It is an ancient Mariner, And he stoppeth one of three. “By thy long grey beard and glittering eye, Now wherefore stop’st thou me?” (Coleridge). By introducing the mariner as an “it,” Cooleridge dehumanizes him to a being that is, conceivably because of his alienation, not seen as human. Coleridge suggests that the interpersonal relationships and interactions of humanity are vital to human identity. As a result, the mariner continues to tell his tale to others as a way to temporarily cease his isolation. Coleridge goes on to write, ‘Drop down the breeze, the sails dropped down, ‘Twas sad as sad could be; and we did speak only to break the Silence of the sea!” (Coleridge). The alliteration of the phrase emphasizes the isolation the mariner feels. This is shown when the mariner tells the wedding guest “O Wedding-Guest! This soul hath been/ Alone on a wide sea/ So lonely ‘twas, that God himself/ Scarce seemed there to be” (Coleridge). The repetition of the word “alone” continues to emphasize the loneliness the ancient mariner felt while at sea. This isolation caused the mariner to become a paranoid and mysterious being. This is reflected in Frankenstein while Frankenstein is creating his creature; he becomes fearful and distant and goes mad. While Frankenstein’s alienation is voluntary, the mariner’s alienation comes as his punishment for his crime against nature: killing the albatross.
Furthermore, the theme that playing God and violating the laws of nature will result in consequences is also seen throughout both pieces. Coleridge wrote, “At length did cross an Albatross, Through the fog it came; As if it had been a Christian soul, We hailed it in God’s name” (Coleridge). By comparing the albatross to a “Christian soul” and “hailing it in God’s name” the mariner depicts it to be almost sacred, emphasizing Coleridge’s message for the respect of the natural world. The albatross is a symbol of God’s creation and of purity. The Mariner and his crewmen viewed the albatross as a sign of hope. Coleridge then goes on to write “God save thee, ancient Mariner! From the fiends that plague thee thus! – Why look’st thou so?’- With my crossbow I shot the Albatross” (Coleridge). Seeing as the albatross represents god’s creation and innocence, the Mariner killing the albatross can be viewed as an effort to conquer or subdue nature. As a punishment for offending the spirits of nature “the wind dies, the sun intensifies, and it will not rain” (Coleridge). Coleridge then wrote, “And I blessed them unaware. The self-same moment I could pray; And from my neck so free. The Albatross fell off, and sank like lead into the sea” (Coleridge). By “blessing the water snakes unaware” the mariner shows admiration for the water snakes and his punishment subsides slightly. It “starts to rain” and “the albatross fell from the mariner’s neck” (Coleridge). It is in that instant that the mariner shows some respect towards nature continuing to push Coeridge’s and Shelley’s message for the embracement and appreciation of nature.
Similarly, Shelley depicts nature as a form of rehabilitation for Frankenstein. Shelley wrote, “We passed a fortnight in these perambulations: my health and spirits had long been restored, and they gained additional strength from the salubrious air I breathed, the natural incidents of our progress, and the conversation of my friend” (Shelley). By describing the air as “salubrious”, Shelley emphasizes nature’s importance that while Frankenstein grieves the deaths of his loved ones, he is restored back to good health through nature. Shelley is also pushing the idea that nature is a formidable force that one should not cross. By creating his monster Frankenstein is attempts to play God and break the natural order. As a result, nature punishes Frankenstein through his creation. He is given a creature that kills his loved ones and is eventually the cause of his downfall. When Frankenstein recounts his story to Walton it was because it would be dreadful if Walton was “unacquainted with the ever-varied powers of nature” (Shelley). This admission of the formidable force of nature and it’s laws shows Frankenstein realizes that he has committed a mistake in breaking these rules, and that doing as such has consequences. Similarly, in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner the Mariner said, “I had done a hellish thing” (Coleridge). He realized that in killing the albatross he would be punished by the natural world’s supernatural forces. The shared belief that the natural world is above human attempts to subdue nature joins the pieces by illustrating their attempts to spread a similar message.
In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Frankenstein Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mary Shelley tell their own versions of the wonders of the natural world and life and death. They explore topics such as isolation and the natural order that are still seen in the works created today. Through the use of figurative language, parallel characters, and themes, Coleridge and Shelley created two pieces of literature with two very distinct yet very similar characters.
- Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, and J. Noël Paton. Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. London: Art-vnion, 1863.
- Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Karen Karbiener. 2004. Frankenstein. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics.
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