Toward the end of “A Night to Remember,” Walter Lord briefly nodded to “the element of fate” in the story, which teases its audience with a sense at once of inevitability and of how easily things might have turned out differently. It is, he says, like “classic Greek tragedy.”
He was right. All the energy spent on the mechanics, the romance, the construction, the passenger list, the endless debates about what the Californian might have done and just how many people perished (still never resolved) has distracted from what may, in the end, be the most obvious thing about the Titanic’s story: it uncannily replicates the structure and the themes of our most fundamental myths and oldest tragedies. Like Iphigenia, the Titanic is a beautiful “maiden” sacrificed to the agendas of greedy men eager to set sail; the forty-six-thousand-ton liner is just the latest in a long line of lovely girl victims, an archetype of vulnerable femininity that stands at the core of the Western literary tradition.
But the Titanic embodies another strain of tragedy. This is the drama of a flawed and self-destructive hero, a protagonist of great achievements and overweening presumption….
Read it all.