“Titanic Survivors Found in Bermuda Triangle” was published in Robert Olen Butler’s 1996 short story collection Tabloid Dreams. As the title of the book indicates, the basic premise of the stories in this collection is the lurid exaggerations found in the headlines of newspapers such as the National Enquirer and the Weekly World News. Rather than simply sticking with the humor implied by the outlandish titles of the stories, however, Butler develops the humanity implied within each piece, exploring what the situations mean to the characters who find themselves in such bizarre circumstances.
This story consists of a monologue by a survivor of the Titanic disaster. She has no memory of the time that has passed from the sinking of the ship in 1912 to the time that a rescue helicopter arrived to save the lifeboat she floated in, sometime in the mid-1990s. In her time (the first decade of the twentieth century), she was active in the feminist movement, wary of men and acutely conscious of the inequalities that marked the American society she knew firsthand. Excited about the signs of social progress in the modern world that she sees on the television in her hotel room, she is also worried about what this means for her future: with the cause settled to which she once devoted her life, she cannot imagine that there is any joy left for her, a stranger in a strange land.
Though the title “Titanic Survivors Found in Bermuda Triangle” implies a farcical comedy, Butler is dead serious about this woman’s plight, examining her situation with the same measured care that readers expect of thoughtful works of literature.
Robert Olen Butler does not establish a setting at the start of “Titanic Survivors Found in Bermuda Triangle”; nor does he establish who is talking. Instead, he starts the story with the narrator, whose name will much later be given as Margaret, telling her story, leaving the situation for the reader to piece together. From the title of the story, readers can accurately suppose that she is one of the survivors of the wreck of the Titanic, on the night of April 14, 1912. This assumption is supported by her reference, in the first sentence, to the coldness of the North Atlantic, the location where the Titanic sank, and references soon after to a lifeboat and the ship’s smokestacks. She is recalling that night, and her life leading up to it.
While describing the chaotic scene of the ship going down, Margaret describes having been in London just days earlier, with a group of women who were marching in protest for women’s right to vote and whose demonstration was being ignored by men. She feels similarly ignored as the ship is sinking, as her immediate understanding of the situation is ignored by all but one of the men she encounters. She traveled to London to attend a convention on suffrage and is proud of herself for having traveled alone, which was highly irregular for women in 1912.
In the present, Margaret finds her modern hotel room strange, but she has come to understand and accept it. She is conscious of the cold air from the air conditioner and has learned to use the television, examining the world and pleased to see women playing more significant roles now than they did in her time. The running water in the bathtub intrigues her: she has never taken off all of her clothes to bathe and finds uncomfortable the idea of doing so.
Remembering the ship’s last hours, she recalls one particular man, an Englishman, whom she met on the promenade deck soon after the ship struck the iceberg. Though she generally looked upon men with disdain, she felt a little more comfortable with this man, which she attributes to his gentle, soft eyes. When he told her that the ship would be all right, repeating the much-advertised point that it was supposed to be unsinkable, she dismissed his words of consolation and told him...
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