Part One of Steven Biel’s Down With the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic offers several different interpretations of the events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. These interpretations come from all segments of society; the rich, the poor, and every other segment of society developed their own unique interpretation of the Titanic disaster. These differing opinions is what Biel draws on to construct his argument Biel argues that the way disaster is interpreted is subject to our own beliefs. This argument is strengthened throughout the first part of the book.
I found it very interesting how everyone at the time of the Titanic was able to use this disaster to further strengthen his or her own beliefs. Every segment of the population read into the sinking of the Titanic an explanation for the disaster that reaffirmed their own values. The rich were painted as heroes, while the poorer, more ethnic passengers were described as villains. Additionally, arguments were made for and against women’s suffrage and religious doctrine was employed as an explanation for the catastrophe. To me, this seems like a form of exploitation. Spectators are using the deaths of the Titanic passengers to further their own agenda. I think this shows something about human character that is slightly morbid.
I like the argument that Dan and Wells brought up that the Titanic does not have an intrinsic meaning. I agree; while the Titanic had meanings to a lot of different people at the time, it seems difficult to assign an intrinsic meaning to this disaster. Also, I disagree with Molly’s assertion that we have become indifferent to loss of life because of this class. The loss of human life and capitol was horrible, but as historians, we examine the way events like the sinking of the Titanic affected the course of history. Through this historical lens, we have to realize that not everything has to have meaning, but we must analyze its historical significance.