Mariner: regression to the abitrary

After the problem of accounting for why the Mariner shoots the Albatross, the second most baffling aspect of The Ancient Mariner, but one which has by comparison received less comment, is that the fate of the Mariner is decided by the throw of dice. So too, it is implied, is the fate of the rest of the crew. It would be hard to conceive of a more effective symbol of arbitrariness than the throw of dice. Here there can be no resort to hidden meaning in order to give the Mariner's fate a moral construction: the symbol of the dice remains obdurately resistant to any moral reading. What it lacks in moral significance, however, is precisely what gives it its disturbing power in psychological terms. It is its very meaninglessness that explains the terrible predicament of the Mariner that follows. What is described in the remainder of the poem shows all the features of a major traumatic breakdown in the Mariner's personality, the proximate cause of which is his witnessing of the deaths of his two hundred shipmates.

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