Gin Lane is one of the strongest didactic engravings by William Hogarth. It is a graphic lecture on the evils of drinking gin which, in his words, produces “idleness, poverty, misery and distress, which drives even to madness and death.” Hogarth makes his point very well by using shocking, horrible scenes.
On the left side of the picture, in front of a pawnshop, a carpenter is trying to sell his tools and a woman tries to sell her pots. They will surely buy gin with their money. In the lower left corner we see the entrance of what is supposed to be a gin bar. Over the entrance there is an inscription that says, “Drunk for a Penny/Dead Drunk for Two Pence/Clean Straw for Nothing.” The woman sitting on the stairs is so drunk that she loses the grip on her child which falls over the railing to the pavement below. Her breasts are showing which makes me believe she also lost her grip on reality. In the lower left corner there is a man with a glass in his hand. His body looks more like a corpse than a living person and has so little meat on him that you could count his ribs.
To the right side we see a mass of people who are drinking heavily. A woman has an infant in her arms and she gives him gin to drink. The other people in the scene are giving each other drinks and we also see some fighting going on in the back. The vase looking container that hangs by the roof looks very much like the one hanging at the entrance of the gin bar, in the lower left corner, so we can only think that there is another place one can buy gin from.
In the upper right corner there is a building with a hole in it through which we can see a hanged man. Two buildings away a structure is collapsing and there are bricks falling down in the street. In the background two people are putting a dead man in a coffin. Above there are the ruins of a city which looks like was deserted a long time ago.
From the foreground to the very last scene in the background of the engraving, one can notice there is a gradual loss of animation which gives the impression that emptiness will also come to the gin lane.