Devoir de Philosophie

Beer Street and Gin Lane : Two Aspect of Alcohol

Publié le 06/04/2011

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Issued by William Hogarth in 1751, “Gin Lane” and “Beer Street” were painted in support of the “Gin Act”. They show the difference between the misery of gin drinkers and the happiness and good wealth of those who drink beer. This may sound surprising, but at the time the beer was considered as a healthy drink. The overall impression of the prints is their depiction of opposites. The inhabitants of “Gin Lane” are represented struggling in a world of despair and decay, while their neighbours live in peaceful prosperity. “Gin Lane” and “Beer Street” show two contrasting views of London. At the center of the painting “Gin Lane”, there is a drunken mother who is carelessly taking a pinch while her baby is falling and saying that it’s shocking would be an understatement. It certainly means that those who drink gin have no concern for anything else. The corpse below on the steps appears to be a travelling ballad-singer and the ballad hanging from his basket is called “The Downfall of Mrs. Gin”, it might be a reference to the Gin Act. On the left is a pawn shop, with its characteristic symbol hanging over the door. Pawn shops made good business out of gin addiction because everyone was ready to sell anything to get some gin. The pawn-broker seems to be estimating the value of the saw (as it’s a tool of work so we can assume that it symbolizes work) and the pots and pans (which, for me, symbolize home) that the man and woman wish to sell to be able to buy gin. There are two gin shops in the picture, both represented by the jug hanging outside. The other figures in the picture illustrate the social consequences of gin drinking and are here to shock us. In the middle ground on the right side there is the mother forcing gin down her child’s throat. Behind her there are two young girls drinking gin. In the background, behind the drunken mother, we can see a child impaled on a stick and another one crying while his mother is placed in a coffin. The collapse of society is symbolized by the collapsing building in the background. Meanwhile, the church spire is visible further in the background, but it seems very far away from the scene of moral dissolution before it. “Beer Street” provides a revealing glimpse of an ideal society, everything is joyous. Industry and happiness go hand in hand. In this well ordered scene, the various classes intermingle in a state of harmony, industry and leisure are properly balanced, and prosperity is shared by all. And on the contrary of “Gin Lane”, all the drinkers are solid working men - a butcher, a blacksmith etc; and they all look clean while the people of Gin Lane seem to have little use for a shave and haircut. In “Beer Street”, it is the local pawnbroker who finds himself going through hard times. His is the only property in disrepair and no customers await his attention. Outside his door we can see a scene of prosperity and wealth. There is a feeling of happiness on “Beer Street” with smiling faces and obvious flirtations. They certainly seem well fed with plump faces and big stomachs whereas in “Gin Lane” they all seem to be starving. The inhabitants of both “Beer Street” and “Gin Lane” are drinking rather than working, but in “Beer Street” the workers are resting after having worked; they are all depicted in their workplaces or with their tools while in “Gin Lane” the people drink instead of working. The only ones who are working in “Gin Lane” are those who profit from the vice provided by the gin. Although it may not be striking at first, there are similarities within the scenes. In the two paintings most of the characters are represented with a drink close to hand. There are also very few persons who are working, the exceptions providing a contrast. While both places contain a pawnbroker, their situations differ greatly, and if the inhabitants of either scene raised their eyes from their noisy and busy surroundings, they will see the spires of churches looking down upon them. Perhaps to remind them that God watches over everyone, no matter how different they can be.  


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