In A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (1839) and The Expulsion - Moon and Firelight (1828), Thomas Cole expresses a number of themes characteristic of much of his work. The most predominant theme in these works is the awesome, untamed power of nature.
A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (1839) depicts a small clearing on which a small cottage stands. A individual on a horse appears in the foreground. The scene in many ways appears very calm and serene. It is the scale of man in comparison to the natural scenery and elements that conveys nature's power. On the left side of the canvas, the viewer sees approaching storm clouds which promise a demonstration of nature's power. At the same time, the natural terrain encloses the human element in the painting, indicating that nature cannot be tamed; it will always overshadow any of mankind's achievements.
Cole likewise explores the awesome power of nature in The Expulsion - Moon and Firelight (1828). In this work, Cole expresses the relationship between natural and artificial elements. The light source on the right comes from a fire lit inside the cave. The cave is surrounded by dark, menacing clouds and mangled tree branches in the left foreground; it is as if the fire's light is all that prevents nature from overtaking it. Like A View of the Mountain Pass, the very natural formation of a cave serves to enclose the human presence in the painting.
The theme of the struggle between man and nature is a dominant theme in American Romanticism. Cole's works embody this struggle - a struggle which nature always wins.