Nor is Homer’s depiction of the poor an exercise in Dickensian sentimentalism, as it might easily have become. At the top of his engraving, a thief with stereotypically Irish facial features plunders a hen house for his Thanksgiving feast. A spinster toils at her needlework in a dim garret. A boy scampers home to his widowed mother and invalid sister clutching a loaf of bread, possibly ill-gotten. At the very center of the spread, an old miser pushes heaps of gold into a strongbox.As national disunion loomed that Thanksgiving, so did hunger and misery for many Americans. Still rickety from the depression of 1857, the stock market had begun to collapse almost immediately after Abraham Lincoln’s election; Wall Street worried that debts owed by Southern planters – many of them mortgaged up to their eyebrows – would become uncollectable. Northern textile mills, fearing a disruption in cotton shipments from the South, began laying off workers by the thousands. “All our manufacturers are looking despondingly towards the coming storm,” a Philadelphian wrote. “An inclement winter is about setting in. What misery and distress it will witness if things continue in their gloomy state.”Today, Winslow Homer is too often remembered simply as a masterful, reclusive painter of Civil War scenes and New England seascapes. “But even at this early stage in his career, Homer often aligned himself with society’s downtrodden, placing them in the foreground and challenging the viewer to identify with their condition,” the historian Peter H. Wood, author of several penetrating books on Homer’s paintings, told me in an e-mail. “Soon Homer’s moral attention, and that of Harper’s readers, would move beyond the have-nots of the urban North to the enslaved workers of the rebellious South. And yet at the same time he usually managed to remain a detached and neutral observer; even his most controversial scenes are carefully balanced.”
My family and I have much for which to be grateful this year. We won't be doing the turkey thing, but we will be contacting family and so forth.
Update: The more I think about that image the more I am interested in exploring its implications from a Buddhist perspective. "More dinner than appetite" doesn't actually, from a Buddhist perspective, portray what is going on in the left half of the illustration. In fact, there's a heck of a lot of appetite there; it's an appetite for more of everything and then some. Those with "more appetite than dinner" are those truly in need; of course their healthy appetite is not sated. But in a (different from each) sense both classes have more appetite than dinner; it's just that one class can't even meet the ability to have dinner that fulfills, while the other has an appetite bigger than the universe.
May we belong to neither class; I'm sure that's Winslow Homer's take on it as well.