Take William Hogarth’s “Marriage A-la Mode” and articulate the social problems it was trying to address. Can they be compared to social problems today?
William Hogarths “Marriage a-la Mode” is an 18th-century painting composed of 6 plates that satirize the then commercialized and widely-considered norm of marrying for convenience. The plates depict the downfall of such marriages by self-destructive corruption and overindulgence in the 18th century (Emery, 2001, p. 319). More than two centuries later, despite the vast differences in the situation than to today’s society, these social ills are still present, sometimes in an even worse way.
The first plate portrays the crudeness of the marriage transaction between a middle-class girl and her egotistic fiance. In this plate, Lord Squanderfield pompously points to his genealogy that indicates his noble ancestry. The plain bride looks displeased with the transaction (Emery, 2001, p. 319). Such transactions are still obvious in several societies nowadays particularly in Asian and African cultures. There is still a widespread occurrence of fixed marriages based on wealth, sometimes even without the consent of the bride-to-be (Dietrich, 1998, p. 236 and (Nasrin, 2001, p. 32). The second plate portrays the lack of intimacy between the spouses. After a day of independent activities, they retire, with the husband oblivious of his wife’s presence, and the wife wishing for her husband’s attention. The lack of class and identity in the house decorations depict housekeeping lacking in heart and spirit (Emery, 2001, p. 319). Such marriages are definitely obvious in societies today, proof of which is the growing marriage counseling programs that show how marriage, a supposedly intimate union between two individuals, need third-party help to discuss marriage issues.
The third plate portrays the continuous downfall of the marriage. The female child standing between the husband’s legs could mean that he is not into normal sexual relationships.
The setting in a quack doctor’s room could mean that the husband is looking for medicines, probably for the cure of the diseases, he acquired from his indiscretions (Emery, 2001, p. 319). No further explanation is needed to prove that this plate certainly depicts the current problems eating today’s marriages. The fourth plate portrays how the new Countess imitates the aristocratic lifestyle filled with art collecting, extravagance, and even adultery. Here, the baby rattle shows she has a child, presumably under the care of the servants. She busies herself with the attention from her lover whom she entertains in their matrimonial house (Emery, 2001, p. 319). Nowadays, this issue is treated almost lightly, as movies portray such events as normal as everyday conversations (Hudock & Warden, 2001, p. 117).
The fifth plate shows the husband engaging in a duel with his wife’s lover. The hypocrisy is evident since the husband is supposedly fighting for the honor and virtue of a union lacking in honor and virtue. The husband dies, the lover runs away, and the shattered wife is left alone. The sixth plate portrays the wife committing suicide, her crippled daughter who inherited her father’s disease, and the miserly lifestyle of the wife’s father who sold her to a wealth-based marriage personal gain (Emery, 2001, p. 319). It shows the heartbreaking ending of the marriage founded on wrong practices and lack of morals.
The fact that the plates are easy to understand does not mean that they lack art. They mean that the issues are so common that any regular individual could easily relate to them (Emery, 2001, p. 319). From the Kensington Palace to the White House, to the everyday neighborhood, these issues become so usual that they do not shock the society anymore and are even sensationalized into blockbuster hits (Hudock & Warden, 2001, p. 119).
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Emery, A. E. H. (January 01, 2001). Marriage a la Mode: The Inspection by William Hogarth.
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