I chose to review John Updike’s Review “It Was Sad” from the
October 14th issue of “The New Yorker”. In the review, Updike examines
several works concerning the tragedy of the Titanic. He cites these works, I
feel, to support his own opinion about the event, and the different accounts of
what really happened.
Updike spends some time disproving the belief that the upper class
male passengers heroically sacrificed their own seats on the lifeboats for
those less fortunate than themselves. He even points out, who he feels, are
the real heroes in this catastrophe. This shows he is writing from a moral
perspective, relating to these works.
He definitely takes the position of the lower class of American society
as this time in history, and even brings up the topic of racism and sexism in
the recall of the event. It seems that the ships crew and the lower class
passengers were the most courageous in the eventful two and half hours it
took for the ship to totally go under. He provides quotes from the various
selections, one being the statistics of death, by class. These statistics show
that, in actuality, more of the upper class passengers survived than the lower
classes (by both percentage, and total people).
Updike also examines, in depth, the cultural effect of the sinking of the
Titanic. The thought that a ship declared unsinkable going down on its first
voyage was at the very least, shocking to the public. Who could look at
invention and progress in the same way? Updike seems to point out that the
public at this time is naive and quick to make idealistic judgments.

He also refers to the passengers moral standpoints, describing the
decisions they made not only during the ship’s final hours but also during the
whole trip. To further prove his point, he gives the testimony included in one
of the books, concerning a Senator who heard the screaming of the suffering
passengers but made no attempt to rescue them. The people on that half filled
life boat refused to return for other, offering the excuse that they could have
been injured by the crowd. He gives other similar examples of such acts.
It seems to me that Updike not only wanted to review the events of the
disaster, but also make a statement about social classes and their values. I
feel that he presented an accurate description of the American cultural scene
at that time.


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