Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Marlow and the Mariner in Heart of Darkness and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner are both morally ambiguous characters with many similarities. Each embarks on a great journey in which their character is tested numerous times. Their trials lead to many profound revelations about humanity, which are explored in ways only possible because of their hazy morality.
At the start of their adventures, both Marlow and the Mariner were only sailors looking for adventure and fortune. The motivations for their actions were simple; Marlow was “lost in all the glories of exploration” (pg. 13), and the Mariner was only seeking to avoid a storm. But each would be changed in profound ways by their journeys, in great part due to their ambiguous morality. The gray nature of Marlow’s psyche is evidenced primarily through his opinions and judgments- for example, his patronizing attitude towards women and his perceived connection to the natives. The Mariner’s morality is obviously not purely good, as he “shot the Albatross” (l. 81-82) that had brought him only good fortune for no reason except that he was jealous and had the power to do so.
The costs of their decisions would weigh heavily on them both throughout their travels. Because of his rash decision, the albatross was hung around the Mariner’s neck, a burden which, along with his guilt, he’d have to carry for a long time. Avenging the albatross also were the ghastly duo who gambled for the Mariner’s life- all the members of his crew, some of whom were very close to him, “dropp'd down one by one… With heavy thump, a lifeless lump” (l. 219-220), killed by Death. They, too, shared the blame for the Mariner’s crime, as they had condoned his action as long as things were going well. Ma...


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...lessons away from a work. As all real persons have both good and evil in them, at least to some extent, they can more easily relate to characters that are morally ambiguous like them. This is perhaps why the Mariner’s tale left the wedding guest “a sadder and a wiser man” (l. 625) - he saw the Mariner in himself, and knew that the Mariner’s tale could easily have been his own, if his circumstances had been different.
Despite their differences, Marlow and the Mariner both portray similar facets of human nature. They embark on similar journeys, and share a like fate in the end. Each of them shares a complex moral ambiguity. It is this quality that drives many key events of both Heart of Darkness and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. And it is also their moral ambiguity that allows for the development of the intricate revelations which make these works great.

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