Theme: Through the theatrical use of communion in the course of dining, a cleverly constructed Faustian pact, exposure of figurative vampirism, and literary intertextuality, the director of Titanic discloses the classic motion picture of young, aspiring love separated by tragic circumstance. (Assignment was to choose a movie and use the book ‘How to Read Literature Like A Professor’ and compare the movie’s themes to the author’s themes in the book and relate them. ) Title: Unfathomable The question was to die for something or to live for nothing.
The fundamental nature of Rose DeWitt Bukater’s character shines in her comment regarding Picasso’s paintings when she states that “there is truth, but no logic” (Titanic). Her artistic avowal was questioning the balance of the value of subsistence against the method and validity of its content, which was also her personal dilemma. In Director James Cameron’s epic movie Titanic, the young debutante, Rose, her affluent affianced Cal Hockley, and Rose’s mother, Ruth DeWitt Bukater, board the lavish, ill-fated ship in an entourage of extravagance.
Almost avoiding his providence, American Jack Dawson and Italian friend, Fabrizio DeRossi make the final boarding of the unsinkable Titanic by winning steerage class tickets on the steamship minutes beforehand in a “lucky” game of poker. As the ill-fated vessel departs upon her wayfaring, passengers are separated and sorted by their respective class of societal rank based on wealth and affordability of ticket. As an unlikely, star-crossed romance blooms between Jack and Rose, her moral convictions and her heart conflict with her societal and familial obligations.
In Cameron’s factual depiction of the R. M. S. Titanic’s unfortunate destiny, he spins the fictional, heartrending love affair between Jack and Rose while exposing the noxious narcissism of the upper class through the use of literary themes. Through the theatrical use of communion in the course of dining, a cleverly constructed Faustian pact, exposure of figurative vampirism, and literary intertextuality, the director of Titanic discloses the classic motion picture of young, aspiring love separated by tragic circumstance. Thomas Foster, in his book How to Read Literature Like a Professor, teaches ay readers and students of literature how to recognize themes, symbolism, and patterns in written works to enhance understanding and enjoyment. In his straightforward way, Foster gives insight into meals shared by characters: “whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion” (8). He cites that dining together gives clues to emotional interaction among the dining companions. Foster further explains that “[t]he act of taking food into our bodies is so personal that we really only want to do it with people we’re very comfortable with” (8).
Sharing a meal is used as a plot device or point of axis on which behavior may hinge. Dining together not only shows loyalty, kinship, and generosity between players in the literary field. Ceremony of a meal can facilitate a familiar ground where the characters can gain respect or dislike for each other, share something in common or find differences between themselves, convey tension or conflict, exhibit harmony or happiness, and form or break bonds. Meals on the luxury ship Titanic are a vehicle of exposing societal class and status as well as illuminating Rose’s struggle from those who inhibit her independence.
In Titanic, several meals are shared among a closely knit group of bluebloods who flaunt the opulence of high society. Rose Bukater is engaged by duress to Caledon Hockley, a very arrogant and controlling man, wealthy heir to his American steel tycoon father. Cool mannered, calculating, and a member of upper crust, Cal Hockley is oblivious that Rose does not want the marriage. During their first meal aboard ship, Rose is holding a theatre-length cigarette holder and begins to smoke, which was fashionable for women during the early nineteen hundreds. Her mother, Ruth, expresses her annoyance but Rose seemingly ignores her.
Cal snatches the cigarette and crushes it, embarrassing Rose in front of the other members of the table. Rather than objects or images, Foster tells us that “action can also be symbolic. ” (205). Crushing of the cigarette symbolizes destroying of Rose’s will and autonomy. Without asking for Rose’s preference, Cal orders dinner for the pair of them and then as a second thought asks her if she likes the lamb. These two examples show how young Rose is subjugated under the commanding nature of her mother and her betrothed. The lovely protagonist comments of the Titanic: “[i]t was the ship of dreams to everyone else.
To me it was a slave ship, taking me back to American in chains. Outwardly, I was everything a well brought up girl should be. Inside, I was screaming” (Titanic). Rose felt trapped by her situation of engagement, but sees very few possibilities before her other than marriage to a man she does not love to insure her and her mother’s financial security. The communion of dining in these examples shows how Rose is being controlled. During a lavish feast, Rose is passive, withdrawn and strained. Bursting from the regale in tears, Rose runs the length of the massive ship in an attempt to distance herself from her oppression.
At the stern, she climbs the rail and longingly looks to the frigid waters below her contemplating ending her distraught struggle in suicide. Concerned, Jack Dawson comes to attempt persuading her from jumping to her death. His distraction works and Rose comes back across the ledge. When Rose’s party arrives, they hail Jack a hero from saving Rose from her “accident” and offer to allow him to dine with them the following evening in recompense. From the dining scene, it is clear that Rose is at her breaking point when she darts from the dining room. The communion of her meal has become sacrilege and she tries to escape it.
Sensing her aloofness, Cal comes to Rose that night in her bedchamber to present her with a gift suited to royalty, which he likens them to be. He offers Rose anything and promises never to deny her of her wishes when they are married if she would only open her heart to him. Rose is overwhelmed by his gift of generosity and her heart is laden with confusion over her plight. Cal is attempting to win Rose’s affections through material means, which cheapens her feelings as if she can be bought with his wealth. He is building the grounds further to insure her compliance with the Faustian pact he is instilling.
It is very important that this scene follows the corrupt meal. Cal is trying to form a bond with Rose that was jilted by the former events of the evening. Hockley has softened his manner to lure his delicate prize into his lair so that he can seal the deal and have her accept their marriage willingly. Cal is trying to convince Rose that his feelings are sincere. Rose finds Jack the next day to thank him formally for saving her life. Intuitive Jack questions Rose on her affection toward Hockley and Rose is hesitant to answer of her heart’s true commitment.
Throughout the day, the pair remain together and share an afternoon of gaiety bringing them closer. At the formal dinner that evening, Jack, although dressed in a tuxedo, is out of his element with social graces. Rose’s mother makes a point of asking Jack about the accommodations in steerage, the lowest class of the steam liner, allowing all guests to understand that he is only a temporary guest at their table. Her question is both to embarrass Jack and to further distance him from Rose. Foster makes mention of “us-against-them and you-against-me moments” during the course of communion which show “tension and conflict” (13).
The dining scene is an anxious affair. Even though everyone seems to be having a jovial time, Ruth and Cal are nervous with Jack in attendance. After dinner, the gentlemen take leave to attend stogies and Brandy in the smoking room. Rose whispers to Jack, “[t]hey are retreating into a cloud of smoke where they will congratulate each other on being masters of the universe” (Titanic). Jack invites Rose to a party and she agrees to meet him. In the steerage accommodations, there is a rollicking jigs-and-ale hoe-down in progress.
Foster addresses the metaphoric flight of liberty by telling us “the antidote to limitations and shackles is freedom” (132). Breaking free from her demure, frail, female stereotype common of women in the late Victorian Era, Rose unreservedly dances with Jack and kicks up her feet as if she is kicking off her social restrictions and embracing life as a progressive woman, displaying the freedom she wishes to live through her carefree dancing. At breakfast the next morning, Rose and Cal are dining on the veranda when Cal is ordering Rose to stay away from Jack.
In defiance, Rose quips that she is not one of the foremen at the steel mills that can be commanded. Angry at her insolence, Cal hurls the table and as the glasses and china shatter he faces her. He sternly commands, “[y]ou will honor me the way a wife is required to honor a husband because I will not be made a fool, Rose. Is this in any way unclear? ” (Titanic). When reflecting on her predicament, Rose feels that she has made a bargain with the devil. In the Faustian pact, something very valuable is offered in exchange for the soul or integrity of the one faced with the dilemma.
Rose’s Faustian pact is that to retain the manner of fine living to which she has been accustomed and to continue to be affianced and then married to Hockley, Rose must give up the part of herself that longs to be with Jack and the happiness that she sees as a result of leaving the demands of high society. Rose is faced with the harsh reality that if she takes Cal’s hand in marriage that her “pride and self-respect, [her] identity, can be bought” (Foster xii). When her mother forbids Rose to see Jack again, Rose scoffs. Ruth also places guilt onto Rose by telling her that if she refuses to marry Hockley that they will both be destitute.
Ruth, although aware of Rose’s hesitancy to be committed to Cal in marriage, sees her daughter’s duty as a sacrifice that must be made in order to insure her family’s survival through financial gain. Ruth comments, “[o]f course it’s unfair. We’re women. Our choices are never easy” (Titanic). As the grip of the Faustian pact wraps around Rose’s throat, she feels defeated and resigns herself to her fate. When Jack cleverly corners Rose and tells her that he would like to be with her but that he is a commoner, Rose refuses him and admits that she will marry Cal and asks Jack to leave her alone although it breaks her heart.
At the customary tea time for the women later that day, Rose joins her mother and several other high society ladies to take tea. Rose watches, across the lavish tea room, a woman training her very young daughter how to be a lady by observing proper etiquette at a formal tea. As if drawn to the sight, Rose is seeing her own life and the cultivation she has undergone to become a lady of the cruel society that has entrapped her. Rose comments: “I saw my whole life as if I had already lived it. An endless parade of parties and cotillions, yachts and polo matches.
Always the same narrow people, the same mindless chatter. I felt like I was standing at a great precipice, with no one to pull me back. No one who cared…or even noticed” (Titanic). At the tea, Rose understands that she is a victim of not only circumstances, but of the era, her upbringing, and even her gender. Reflecting on Jack’s words about the fire of life burning brightly within her heart that would dwindle and die if she didn’t escape the smothering chains binding her, she makes her decision to be with Jack and she seeks him out.
Jack and Rose end up in the cargo hold alone and the pinnacle of their romance is crowned when they give in to physical intimacy. By symbolically soiling her virginal usefulness to Cal as a wife, Rose “ultimately resists the satanic temptation” (Foster xii). She has been freed from the Faustian pact by renouncing her social status and the overbearing of those who wish to control her by choosing to be with Jack. When the ship strikes the iceberg, mayhem ensues. The lifeboats are being filled with first-class passenger women and children.
Jack and Cal convince Rose to get into one of the last remaining lifeboats, but as Rose watches Jack, she jumps from the lifeboat back onto the ship. When she was faced with the reality that life without Jack may send her back into the society that was killing her more slowly and painfully, she realizes that she would rather die with the one she loves than live without him. The similarity of Rose’s jump to the sinking ship and Juliet’s dagger which takes her life reinforce the growing evidences of intertextuality of Titanic’s fated love story and Romeo and Juliet.
Cal seizes the gun from his officer and fires at the pair of lovers because in his mind he would rather kill Rose than be bested by a commoner. His rage fuels his superiority in that if he cannot have Rose then no one will have her. In Foster’s book he describes the metaphorical vampire as one who exploits another individual for personal gain without regard to the consequences of the victim whereby the vampire “grows in strength by weakening someone else” (21).
Cal Hockley is such an evil man that he would devour and destroy the life of someone whose fate mattered less to him than his own. By taking possession of and controlling Rose, he was smothering her, draining the life from her, and consuming her to advance his own egotistical agenda. The ship of dreams sinks amidst the painful screams of men, women, and children who are dying in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Jack and Rose find a floating piece of debris, which cannot hold them both. Jack, although he knows that he will die if left in the water, puts Rose atop the float.
In their last moments together, Jack makes Rose promise to live on and enjoy a long, happy life and she makes the final vow to him. When a life boat comes, Rose finds her lover lifeless and cold and he sinks to fathoms below the water. The word “fathom” was once defined by Parliament as a measurement of “the length of a man’s arms around the object of his affections. ” The word derives from the old English faethm, which means “embracing arms. ” Although Rose has to let go of Jack’s embracing arms, she remembers her promise to him, calls for help, and is saved from the glacial water.
Near the beginning of the film, Rose comments on Picasso’s paintings that “there is truth, but no logic” (Titanic). Her impromptu remark sets a mark of symbolism carried throughout the feature. Through Rose’s struggle to break free from the social class that binds her, it is brought to light that high society was superior by privilege to the detriment of the lower class. As the ship slowly begins to sink, the element of death is the water, which is normally a nondiscriminatory taker of life – enveloping lives of the rich as well as the poor.
The water is cheated of her claim to the lives of the elite, but hungrily consumes those who cannot afford the lifeboat. In contrast, the water that brought death to those underprivileged of wealth served as the cleansing medium of Rose by saving her from the society that was drowning her. Guiding us on our literary journey, Foster says that “there’s no such thing as a wholly original work of literature” (29). The similarity of the romance between Rose and Jack and that of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet cannot be denied.
Disobedience to parental figures, refusal of sound advice, display of youthful sexual desires, defiance of societal divisions, and inclusion of suicidal episodes bring Shakespeare’s saga and Titanic into the dominion of romantic tragedy. Perhaps the golden thread intertwining both tales is the conflict between young love and old hate that disguises itself as forced separation. The intertextuality of stories involving tragically star-crossed lovers gives depth of meaning and elevated understanding to all of their productions.
The heartrending fairy-tales of young, cursed love take many forms, yet all succumb to the intertextual doom of destiny, divine will, and destruction through reckless passion. The strategy of the theatrical picture production of Titanic generates strong sympathy for Jack and Rose in their struggles to remain together as well as the hope that both will survive the disaster at sea. In the course of understanding Foster’s thematic views, spectators align with Rose’s hatred of separation by societal class based on monetary wealth.
The watery sword of separation, with one deadly pass, had divided the masses of the third class dying from the first class living in Titanic. Through the magnifying glass of Foster’s aids, the expanse of understanding literary works becomes more focused. Navigating the endless sea of written works becomes a pleasure cruise when armed with the Foster’s tools of literary perception. Through Foster’s examples of the themes of communion through dining, the Faustian pact, figurative vampirism, and intertextuality, the elemental keynotes and depth of Titanic are revealed.