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. Marlow had to face dire consequences for his actions as well. His deep thinking about his world and his relative moral impartiality led him to seek out the enigmatic Kurtz, rather than just a fortune in ivory, as the goal of his journey. His decision to continue no matter what caused him to wait quite a while for the rivets necessary to begin his journey down the river and the helmsman to die in the barrage of the natives before ever reaching Kurtz. But it was the same traits that allowed him to analyze the true nature of the lawless environment and of the people in it, as in his “suspicion of” the natives’ “not being inhuman” (pg. 37).
The adventures of Marlow and the Mariner ended with profound revelations. After he unconsciously blessed the snakes, he was returned to his homeland by a higher power. But he
had “penance more” (l. 410) to do for his actions. Upon returning, he found himself compelled to tell his story to those that needed to hear it, and to seek out new recipients of his story through long travels, teaching them all to respect all the creatures of the Earth. Upon finding Kurtz, Marlow was able to see the true significance of Kurtz’s transformation, being free from the...