Crime and Punishment in Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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Crime, punishment and redemption

The idea of people making wrong actions and having to pay for them afterwards is not new. The Christian religion centers itself around the confession of sins done by men or women. Luckily, they have the power to repent and do penance to receive God’s forgiveness. God sends people this power and people around the world mimic this cycle of crime, punishment, repentance, and reconciliation in court systems and other penal codes. "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" helps implement all this cycle with the murder of the albatross and how he must pay for his actions.

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is a tale of retribution, since the Ancient Mariner spends most of the poem paying for his one, impulsive error of killing the Albatross. The spiritual world avenges the Albatross's death by wreaking physical and psychological havoc on the Ancient Mariner and his shipmates. Even before the sailors die, their punishment is extensive; they become delirious from a debilitating state of thirst, their lips bake black in the sun, and they must endure the torment of seeing water all around them while being unable to drink it for its saltiness. Eventually the sailors all die, their souls flying either to heaven or hell. There are at least two ways to interpret the fact that the sailors suffer with the Ancient Mariner although they themselves have not erred. The first is that retribution is blind; inspired by anger and the desire to punish others, even a spirit may hurt the wrong people. The second is that the sailors are implicated in the Ancient Mariner's crime. If the Ancient Mariner represents the universal sinner, then each sailor, as a human, is guilty of having at some point disrespected one of God's creatures-or if not, he would have in the future. But the eternal punishment called Life-in-Death is reserved for the Ancient Mariner. Presumably the spirit, being immortal, must endure eternal grief over the murder of its beloved Albatross....
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