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Dawn After the Wreck (lit essay)

Posted on February 7, 2013 at 9:10 AM

This painting (by Joseph Mallord WilliamTurner) portrays the elements of land, sea and sky, and a lone dog, gazing upwards. The colours seem to bleed into each other, making it difficult to determine where the water ends and the sand begins. It is also unclear whether the sun is rising or setting, or whether the tide is ebbing or flowing, leaving the entire scene in a state of flux. The twilit sky is reflected by the wet sands, giving the picture a mirrored feel, and drawing the viewer’s gaze into the dark blue ocean that splits the image. While most of the image seems calm and still, the water on the right side of the painting seem to be churning like waves against the shore. All of these elements represent a liminal grey area, and contribute to the images indistinct quality.


The dog is the only living thing within the frame, and serves to orientate the viewer. Were the dog not there, we might be able to turn the picture upside down, and still determine the same image – a blue skyline, with a red hue on either side of it. While the dry, empty shading of the sand and sky suggest emptiness, the sea suggests depth and life with its dark blue visage and churning tide. Perhaps an entire ecosystem of life simmers beneath its surface, hidden from our gaze.


The vast emptiness of the scene is both frightening and poignant. The beach is devoid of humanity, untouched and unmarred, and almost entirely devoid of life. It surrounds and engulfs the tiny dog, and suggests the amoral emptiness of the world in general. The dog is gazing up intently, perhaps at something out of frame, like the moon, or perhaps at something no human can see, implying a spiritual or subliminal world that we have lost touch with. A divine world, perhaps, or one of nature, which technology has severed us from. Or maybe the dog is simply contemplating the vastness of universe, as we contemplate him/her.

Categories: ESSAYS, Literature

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