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 tanic 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 that she knew that it was sinking. Rather than the patronizing attitude that men ordinarily took with women, he accepted her intelligence, earning her respect. Later, she explains that she climbed into the life boat that was filled with women because he asked her to, while he stayed on the ship and faced his death with those left behind.
She remembers being on the lifeboat a few days after the Titanic sank and then hearing a large, loud machine approach from overhead: a helicopter. To the amazement of all of the women on the boat, the captain who speaks to them when they are loaded onto the helicopter is a woman, which is something that would have been unheard of in their time. The advances that women have made give Margaret hope, but they also give her a sense of being unneeded, since so much of her identity was connected to the struggle for gender equality.
The memory of the Englishman haunts her. She knew all onboard the Titanic would all die; she smells death nearby as she did in childhood when she and her father visited a town where the coalmine had collapsed on workers. The man, whom she calls “my man” to distinguish him from another man who was treating this disaster as a joke, stopped her when she wanted to go back to her cabin to read. He asked her to get into the lifeboat, and, despite her aversion to domineering men, she listened to him and agreed. For a moment, she considered touching him—reaching out and straightening his necktie, in a gesture of familiarity, as if they were a married couple.
Looking back on the experience from the present in the hotel room, Margaret realizes that she missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for human contact. Having mentioned before how she has never been comfortable with her naked body, even while bathing, she strips out of her clothes and fills the bathtub. She climbs into the tub as it is filling, and, in the end, slides under the water, imagining that drowning now will reunite her with the nameless man she left behind.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, Robert Olen Butler, Published by Gale Group, 2010