1. Naturalism- One of the first things noticed in this image is the unusual angle in which it is portrayed. The viewpoint is as if it was someone who fell off the ship and was to drown at sea. This reflects the idea of naturalism, the very angle of the illustration was as if it was the view of a person being swallowed by the ocean.
2. There is another looming example of Naturalism in this illustration. The ocean appears to be consuming the ship with its waves, and threatens to capsize the vessel. This was probably meant to show the awesome power of nature, and that no matter the ship’s size, it will always be at the mercy of the sea. His vivid illustration of the shape of the water is probably connected to his New England heritage, where sailing and fishing is a way of life.
3. “To Build a Fire” by Jack London is the epitome of naturalism at work. The man doubted the danger of the cold, like these sailors might have doubted the severity of the storm. In the end the man was killed by nature, and these sailors could meet the same fate for such a foolish approach to things.
4. “The Open Boat,” by Stephen Crane is another short story that can be connected to this illustration. It is another story of survival, Man vs. nature, on the ocean. But in this story, there were many survivors. It was also indicated that one of the reasons for their survival was because they realized their insignificance in comparison to the enormous ocean.
5. As you can see here, an emergency lifeboat is ready to be put into action. An appropriate amount of lifeboats for carrying all souls on board was not required until after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. However, this ship found it necessary to bring at least one. Who knows how many other people were beneath the deck? If something went wrong, would they stand a chance with one lifeboat?
6. The very title of this illustration refers to the signal flares being fired into the night sky. This was, and is sometimes still used as, a maritime distress signal. Apparently, the men on board are trying to get the attention of a passing steamer that could be their savior. Has the storm left them stranded? They are looking into the distance with expressions of hope. Or is it desperation?
7. Winslow homer was not one to leave out his stylistic devices from this illustration. This takes place in the ocean at night, so it is naturally very dark. BUT, the signal flares are a light in this ultimate dark. They represent hope for the sailors when it seems just about all was lost, that they would be left at sea to die. This light could also be an example of the frailty of human life. While the flare may burn bright and fierce in its youth, as it ages and gets wet, that flame inevitably dulls and eventually dies, as we all do.
8. There is a sort of paradox displayed in this image. How was Winslow Homer able to recreate such a scene from a seemingly impossible angle? This strange angle is a component of naturalism, so Winslow Homer must have an incredible ability to visualize things, and does not need to see something in real life in order to paint it. Many great artists lack this ability, and especially to the extent Winslow Homer was able to use it.
9. In Winslow Homer’s illustration, there is a sense of romanticism when you look at the sailors. Every sailor on board the ship is looking intently in the same direction, as if they see a beacon of hope. Might this beacon of hope represent god himself in times of crisis? Possibly, as this was made during the great awakening; a time when the United States wanted to revive it’s religious heritage and bring god back into people’s lives.
10. During the 1870’s, Winslow Homer was becoming more interested in the ocean and the lives of the sailors that worked on it. This illustration is a dramatized, yet realistic portrayal of the job that was so important to New England at the time. This exciting image shows the peril, and price that many men paid, to work on the water, as opposed to a job on land. It shows the ultimate dedication that the men have to make, and in the end it is more than a job, it is a way of life.