“Gin Lane”

History of Art 1B

April 20, 2000

The series of engravings titled “Beer Street” and “Gin Lane” released by William Hogarth in 1751 serves to comment on the idleness and depravity of the lower class.[1] Hogarth suggests in the print “Gin Lane” that gin contributed to the ills of society because it was cheap and readily available. The drink of preference for productivity would be beer as depicted by Hogarth in the corresponding print “Beer Street.” Gin in “Gin Lane” promotes public drunkenness, child neglect, and disorder while beer in “Beer Street” reveals an ideal and productive society. Hogarth attempted to attract a greater audience for these prints by making cheaper prints available. Still the price of one shilling was probably still too much for the lower class to pay, but the engravings represent Hogarth’s view of the order of classes.[2] Hogarth fails to recognize in this series that people have reasons for drinking. In the case of the lower class, they drink to escape from their problems. Hogarth attributes their drinking more to laziness and lack of productive contributions to society that can better be witnessed in the suburban teenagers of today who drink.[3] The theme of idleness and productivity in a group of people stemming from “Beer Street” and “Gin Lane” is still relevant today.

William Hogarth depicts many interesting characters in representation of the idleness of the poor in “Gin Lane.” The figure of the child stretched across the railing is identifiable because it appears to be almost floating over the stairway rail. The child is falling over and flailing its arms trying to save herself. Unfortunately being that she is a child, she most likely will continue to fall because society as depicted in “Gin Lane” is in decay. The child’s legs function in the picture to draw attention to her neglectful mother. This woman’s arms are cradled as if she was holding her child, but she is not holding the little girl. Instead she has a can of food in her hands and is preoccupied with more with eating than the state of the child. Her state of mind is very similar to that of the teenagers depicted in the photograph from today. They appear to be standing idly by, unbeknownst to anything, as seen in the blank stares on their faces.

The woman’s outstretched legs in “Gin Lane” directs the eye to the characters of the skeletal man and dog on the lower right. His emaciated face and gaunt body are visible through the clothes he is wearing. The drink of gin appears to have been what caused his current unproductive physical state because he is holding a document titled “The Downfall of Malaise Drink.” He must have passed out on the street from drinking because one hand is holding a bottle and the other is holding a glass. In the depiction of this man, Hogarth reminds the audience that children are not the only ones affected by drinkers of gin. He appeals through “Gin Lane” about the “cruel treatment of poor Animals” under the ownership of gin drinkers.[4]

Hogarth’s concern for the well being of children and animals must also be addressed in the youth of today. While Hogarth may not explicitly blame parents and owners for livelihood of children and animals, he does make it known that society must deal with the problems resulting from drinking. A good question to ask in examining the teenagers in the photograph from today is “Where are the parents of these kids?” Someone should take responsibility for the misdeeds of these teenagers. If their parents played a more active role in growth of these children, there would be no need for concern because then the children’s problems would be noticed before the problems could grow. The photograph of today’s children does not show any parental figure in chaperoning this large group of impressionable youth.

“Gin Lane” raises the issue of what the parents are doing instead of attending to their children. The parents “desperate for gin, …hand over their clothes, the tools of their trade and even their pots and pans to the pawnbroker.”[5] The case can be made for the children who have both of their parents working. These kids