Hogarth: Judge of Morality

Depicted here is a frozen moment of time, the turning point of a lady’s journey from high class to the slums of the city. This conclusion is proved by a number of qualities in the photo, such as the lighting and body language. mma_iap_10313503776

Immediately we see the woman in the center. For the sake of this blog post, I’ll call her Miss White. Her features are the most well-lit and defined, especially when compared to the other woman in the background, or even the gentleman escorting her into what appears to be a wine shop. I believe this effect is meant to show the difference in class between Miss White and those surrounding her and make it visually apparent that she is clearly out of place. She does not belong here. And yet, here she is after, perhaps, being dropped off my the carriage that is just fading away into the background. The quickness in gaining attention adds to her role in this frame as a target, or victim. She is positioned in the center of everything, as if we as an audience are meant to clearly notice her and how the gentleman, torch boy and pickpocket are all looking to her, too, for varying reasons. I think the lighting also shows the degree of their morality, and that Hogarth does so intentionally. This thinking would align with the pickpocket who is the darkest in this print and with Miss White who has freshly arrived and has not been corrupted by this neighborhood the way the pickpocket, prostitute, and men have. Miss White can be even more of a victim because she seems to be walking towards the light, as though she is trying to stay on a moral path, but in reality is only walking in and towards a darker place just ahead. This trickery warns those looking upon Miss White that the slums are not what they seem and that darkness lurks all around.

Body language is also a useful tool here. One of the first things I noticed about Miss White is that her eyes are looking downwards, an action that is often seen as a show of shame or timidness. Her unwillingness to look anyone in the eye shows how she feels insecure and is unable to see her surroundings for what they truly are. In contrast to the prostitute in the background who looks directly into the eye of her male pursuant, Miss White embodies the image of a lady caught in the wrong web. Her feet are also interesting to note. One foot points away from the darkness and towards the onlooker, implying she has a chance at being saved from her moral downfall. But, her other foot totally parallels that of the man escorting her towards the wine shop, so there is the foreshadowing of her being led astray.

This print is a great example of Hogarth’s judgment on morality. We as onlooking bystanders witness this scene and his underlying criticism is that intervention must take place in order for her to be saved. From the darkness surrounding her to the openness of her body language to the audience, Hogarth wants to instill an urge to pluck this innocent woman away from this toxic environment because that is the best way to help her.

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