Voyage on the Great Titanic Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady rewards youngsters with more than an exciting read. It offers a special perspective on the voyage, telling the story from the point of view of a poor British orphan traveling as a companion to a wealthy American woman.
Margaret's diary entries describe her parents' death, her struggle to survive on the streets of London, life in an orphanage, her sudden stroke of "luck" to be heading to America on the Titanic, and the disaster itself.
Ellen Emerson White has written a story about opulence and class distinction with portraits of courage, nobility, and heroism mixed in. She says, "I think the story of the Titanic is important because it sets such a wonderful example of great numbers of people rising to a terrible occasion with courage and dignity. The values and devotion to duty shown that night are extraordinarily positive things to witness."
On Thursday, April 4, 1912, Margaret Ann Brady, a young teen living at St. Abernathy's Orphanage for Girls, finds daydreams of her upcoming transatlantic voyage more exciting than arithmetic or literature: "I expect to learn a great deal from my journey...America is supposed to be the land of endless opportunities, and I see no reason not to try to better myself."
Five years earlier, Margaret's older brother left her in the care of Sister Catherine at St. Abernathy's and emigrated to America. Thus, when the orphanage receives an unusual request from an American woman looking for a traveling companion, Margaret's teachers agree that she is the perfect candidate. Margaret will accompany Mrs. Carstairs on the Titanic, and from the port of New York she will be free to join her brother in Boston.
Margaret's diary entries progress from observations of indescribable luxury and excess to the terror of the ship's ultimate destiny-collision with an iceberg only five days out of port: "A very strange thing just happened. My hand seemed perfectly steady, and yet I spilled part of my hot chocolate. It was as though there was a jolt...perhaps the seas are beginning to get rough?" Within four hours, the Titanic would be at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and 1500 of her passengers and crew would be dead.
Margaret records the unimaginable anguish only a survivor could comprehend: "After the Titanic sank, the unspeakable shrieking of hundreds of people dying filled the night. Frenzied, terrified screams...It was a horrifying, unearthly sound that would have sickened the very Devil himself." But Margaret is one of the seven hundred passengers pulled from the sea when the Carpathia arrives several hours later. Three days later, the Carpathia unloads her precious cargo onto dry land at the port of New York.
Ellen Emerson White's diary of a young survivor provides an empathetic, visceral perspective that other recent books and movies neglect. Margaret exposes the human side of a teen who feels out of place in the luxurious world of first class; who is afraid of an unknown future; and who personalizes the suffering of those not fortunate enough to be in a lifeboat.
Thinking About the Book
- Discuss how Margaret Ann Brady came to live at St. Abernathy's Orphanage for Girls.
- What do you think of Mrs. Carstairs? Discuss her generous, as well as petty, behavior. Does she ever thank Margaret for forcing her to board a lifeboat?
- What role did each of these vessels play in the Titanic story: the New York, the Californian, and the Carpathia?
- Margaret describes the heroic actions she witnessed the night the Titanic sank: "Men moved aside, without the slightest thought for themselves. There are not sufficient words in the English language to honor their valor and gallantry..." If such a disaster occurred today, do you think people would act the same way? Turn to the author interview for Ellen Emerson White's answer. Do you agree?
- Margaret's diary is filled with observations about the different classes of people aboard the Titanic. Cite several examples of how the classes were treated and separated on the ship. Do we have such class distinctions in America today? Explain.
- What scene from Margaret's diary to you remember best? Why?
- Margaret learns the nautical designations for different areas of the ship from Robert, a crew member. Make a list of those terms and then draw sketches of the ship: a view from the top, as well as a side and an interior view. Label your sketches with the correct terms.
- In Margaret's diary entry for April 4, 1912, she describes the other girls in the orphanage: "Most, I think, will be quite content to live a life without surprises." What does she mean by this statement? Ask the members of your discussion group to share how they feel about a life without surprises.
- At the end of her ordeal, Margaret looks back at the experience and writes: "Most of all, I hope I can learn to forgive myself for still being alive, when so many others are not." List three reasons why Margaret feels so guilty. Compare your reasons with others in your discussion group.
- Margaret tries to draw an "accurate" picture of the ship for her young friend Nora, but she isn't very successful. Using the pictures in the back of the diary or other sources, draw an accurate picture of the Titanic.
- Margaret describes five people who are important in her life. She relates to each on a different level and consequently reveals different aspects of her personality. Write one of Margaret's personality traits on the five points of each star.
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, and Linda M. Pavonetti, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, Oakland University, Department of Reading and Language Arts, Rochester, Michigan.