The Vanity of Humanity
Thomas Hardy’s “The Convergence of the Twain” describes the events leading up to the sinking of the Titanic as well as the aftermath; however, on a deeper level, the work explores the theme of the conflict between man and nature. These opposing forces demonstrate the superiority of nature, as it is the vanity of man that brings about the tragedy of the Titanic. Through juxtaposition, diction, figurative language, and opposition the speaker’s critical tone toward mankind is established, reinforcing the idea that humanity brought this disaster upon itself.
The juxtaposition of what the ship once was and how it is now at the bottom of the ocean highlights the critical tone of the speaker, suggesting that humanity’s vanity is powerless against the forces of nature. The final resting place of the ship being in the “solitude of the sea / Deep from human vanity / And the Pride of Life” (1-3) highlights the conflict between man and nature, implying that although mankind can build extravagant and massive machines, they cannot master nature. The speaker describes the “mirrors meant / To glass the opulent” (7-8) now covered in “sea-[worms]… – grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent” (9), emphasizing the irony that these once extravagant mirrors, a symbol of man’s vanity, now lie on the bottom of the ocean covered in vile sea creatures. Only the “Dim moon-eyed fish” (13) can now “Gaze at the gilded gear” (14) and question “What does this vaingloriousness [at the bottom of the ocean]” (15), reflecting, through this verbal irony, the futileness of man’s hubris against the power of nature and God. Thus, all that mankind creates to fulfill his own vain desires are useless in nature, reflecting the conflict between man and nature.
The diction and figurative language emphasize the inevitability of the disaster, reflecting the one-sided conflict of man versus nature and the critical tone of the speaker. While the Titanic was being built, “The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything / Prepared a sinister mate” (18-19), suggesting, with the pun on “immanent” with “imminent,” as well as the ominous diction and the personification of nature, that this disaster was unavoidable since nature itself had created the iceberg in response to the Titanic. The speaker describes that “As the smart ship grew / In stature, grace, and hue, / In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too” (22-24), reinforcing the idea, through foreboding diction, that the iceberg came about in response to mankind’s hubris in creating the so-called unsinkable ship. Thus, humanity brings this disaster upon itself because it was only because of man’s vanity that nature was forced to create the iceberg.
The opposition of the hubris of man with the omnipotence of nature reiterates the critical tone of the speaker toward man, reinforcing the idea that the disaster was fated to occur and reflecting the title of the poem itself. To mankind, the iceberg and the Titanic seemed “Alien” (25) to one another since “No mortal eye could [foresee] / [their] intimate welding” (26-27), yet they were on “paths coincident” (29); the pun on the word “welding” with “wedding” as well as the opposition of what little mankind can see with the omniscience of nature criticizes man’s nearsightedness and hubris, suggesting that the ship and the iceberg were fated to become one, forming a relationship similar to marriage. Mankind had believed in its vanity that it had built a great, unsinkable ship, yet all it took to destroy it was “the Spinner of the Years” (31) who only had to say the word “And each one [heard], / and consummation [came], and [jarred] the two hemispheres” (32-33), highlighting the idea that these two awesome creations were meant to become one, as the title suggests, and all it took was for nature to say the word. Thus, the speaker establishes the superiority of nature and the futileness of man’s hubristic qualities; no matter what man had done to avoid the disaster, it would have been powerless against the forces of nature.
The ultimate culmination of mankind’s vanity, the Titanic symbolized humanity’s hubris. Rather than an emotional tribute to the many passengers that lost their lives in this tragedy, Thomas Hardy uses this poem as an indictment of humanity, blaming mankind as a whole for this disaster. Hardy hopes to convey to the reader that man tends to lose sight of his place in the world and that he is no match for nature or God, and in doing so, Hardy hopes to prevent such an occurrence from happening again.
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Thomas Hardy’s “The Convergence of the Twain” describes the events leading up to the sinking of the Titanic as well as the aftermath; however, on a deeper level, the work […]