In The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, Spoto discusses many of the motifs found in Hithcock’s films. Water is frequently used to symbolize create turmoil, seen in Lifeboat with the stormy uncertain waters. Water also is the impetus for the survivors to rise up against the deceptive Nazi who had hidden his secret supply from the others, even killing to keep it a secret.
Jewelry is also a common Hitchcockian theme. It frequently represents false value. Connie equates her bracelet with good luck, saying that she will never take it off for fear of what would happen. The survivors are only saved, ironically, with her removal of the bracelet and its eventual loss. Hithcock also equates the bracelet with power. Connie is never able to fasten the clasp. Initially, she turns to Kopac for help, but eventually, the Nazi Willie is the only one who can fix her bracelet.
Hitchcock also suggests that transit sparks romance. The Nurse and the Radio officer slowly develop a relationship with him eventually proposing. Sexual tension also exists between Connie and Kopec. The trip also forces Gus to think only about his Rosie back in New Jersey, frequently questioning if he will ever see her again.
Spoto also suggests that the items that pass through the water in the opening represent the film’s main themes: The New Yorker symbolizes a society troubled in its foundation; the chess board symbolizes intellect useless in solving their situation; playing cards represent excessive leisure which allow Willie to successfully cement control over the ship.
While many criticize Lifeboat for its portrayal of Willie as an Aryan superman, Spotto suggests that people would be more offended by his humanity. His singing of German anthems and appreciation of music gives him a quality no one wanted to associate with Nazis. (This humanity is intentional as Walter Slezak who played Willie claimed his character was given curls in an effort to look more innocent.) Conversely, the “rabid pack of dogs” that were the other survivors prove unappealing at the end when they finally organize as one. Americans could only view a Nazi not as human or superhuman but as inhuman.