The Veteran In A New Field

I like this painting by Winslow Homer a great deal. It’s another allegory, another story about life and changes.

The subject of this painting is a Union veteran of the civil war.  He was a farmer before the war, and has returned to harvest his crop, picking up where he left off.  In the front right corner, you can see where he has placed his coat and canteen. He is still wearing his Federal uniform pants, issue canton flannel shirt, and his weathered black slouch hat.

See how is back is turned away from the viewer.  He has turned his back on war, and returned to farming.  Still, he is reaping wheat with the same precision he reaped life on the battlefield. Homer points that out by using the old-style scythe, analogous with the “Grim Reaper” than the then-current mechanical scythe.  Wheat falls to the ground in rows and bunches, the same as his enemies before the vollies of his and his comrade’s rifle-muskets.

When this painting was exhibited in 1865, after the close of the war, it caused a sensation. People of the time were quick to grasp the levels of meaning that Homer at put into this work,  and understood completely what he was saying. Some of that meaning is lost on today’s Americans, because they are not familiar with the clothing of the period, nor the way agriculture was done so long ago. It is, by itself, a pleasant work to view. However, when you understand what Homer is saying, how Americans are as efficient at war as they are at peaceful pursuits, how we can quickly change from one form to another, then it is a great statement about the strength of our nation.

What other nation on earth could withstand 600,000 dead during 4 years of bitter civil war, the almost total destruction of 1/3 of the nation’s economy, the social transformation of ending human slavery, and a million displaced persons, yet still, almost literally, shake hands, walk away  and go about rebuilding the country and getting on with life.

Something to ponder upon these days.

The Veteran In A New Field


4 Responses to “The Veteran In A New Field”

  1. 1 Diane
    March 6, 2010 at 17:41

    Very well said Tim. It truly is our innate ability to change, grow, move on and prosper that has kept this country strong for over 230 years.

  2. March 6, 2010 at 20:13

    I never would have picked all that out of those 2 paintings. But, after reading what you said, I went back and they were completely new. Things like this happening are one of the great joys of the internet. Thanks Tim.

  3. 3 SCOTT the BADGER
    March 6, 2010 at 22:02

    I second what Stephen says. As to Homer’s idea of how good we are at war, I believe that two things have made the war in Afraq last as long as it has, One, as historical lack of knowlege on the part of the bad rabbits of what happens when you make the US angry, and the appalling pacifist strain of the Progressive Left,who rule us culturatlly, and believe in thier twisted little hearts that we had it coming. I think both Germany and Japan could tell them the price paid. General Giap could tell them about trying to pull guerrila war on us.

    But to get back to Homer. As he used symbolism readily understandable by the viewer, he communicated his message in just one painting, than could be done with a small book. I should like to hear the idea behind Gulf Stream. I know it was painted 34 years later, but one can see a Civil War reading
    in it.

    The just passed storm being the Civil War. The sailor is a freed slave. The wrecked boat is the destruction of the agriculture of the South, leaving the sailor without much in the way of ability to move ahead. The sharks are the Democrats in the Post – Bellum Congress, the scallawags, and the carpet baggers, there to feed on the freed slave. The ship in the distance would be American Society, seemingly sailing right on by, without any concern for the dismasted sailor. Really, all the poor man needs to make his day complete, is to have a P-8, that flew into a localised storm like in the Final Countdown, drop a sonobouy on him from 35,000 feet, before flying back into the cloud, and the 21rst century.

    Here in Central Wisconsin, we grow corn, as Holstien fuel, but we do grow some wheat. I want to know what that man is growing, that is so tall. Quadro-Triticale, perhaps? Hrvest tools, like a scythe, would have been well taken care of, as they are what kept food in your tummy, and clothes on your back. The blade would have been kept oiled and honed, and the the handle oiled to keep it from being dried out. A farmer’s sythe would have been gunmetal coloered blade, and a tan handle. Yet, as you noted, this farmer was using the all black sythe of Death. Well Done, Mr. Homer, Well Done, Indeed!

  4. November 7, 2015 at 18:53

    Soielberg’s Veteran In A New Field (War Horror Montage/Criticism)

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