Girl with the Pearl Earring Essay
Sociology in Delft and Griet’s duality of existence
In Tracy Chevalier’s novel, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Chevalier utilizes
principals of sociology to exhibit Griet’s duality of existence between her home and
where she works. In the novel, Chevalier uses the pearl earring, Griet’s occupation, and
Griet’s family life as a catalyst to overcome the socio- economic circumstances of Griet.
In truth, without Griet’s low socio-economic status the entire novel would not come to
be. If she were wealthy, then she wouldn’t have gone off to work with Vermeer.
Griet’s home life is a transport vehicle for the rest of the novel. Griet’s father is an
artist who became blind after an accident with tiles. “Father had been a tile painter…One
day the kiln exploded, taking his eyes and his trade. He was the lucky one---two other
men died” (Chevalier, The Girl with the Pearl Earring,7). Her brother is at an artistic
apprenticeship, where he is not accelerating. Griet’s family needs money to make ends
meet. Griet’s mother finds the money needed in the form of the Vermeer family: ‘“We
have to, now your father has lost his trade”’ (6). It is agreed that Griet will work as a
maid, not for herself, but for her family.
During the time that Griet is working as a maid, her duality of existence is
automatically apparent. Because Griet works 10 minutes from her home she is torn
between two worlds-- the world that she has been born into and the world that was built
for her. While working, Griet works for the Vermeers, a well to do family, in the town of
Delft. Johannes Vermeer is a thriving artist, which makes Griet jealous because her father
was an artist. “A row of Delft tiles painted with cupids lined the bottom of the walls to
protect the whitewash from our mops. They were not [Griet’s] fathers.” (33) This
jealousy is contrasted with her affection for Vermeer. Griet has an artistic personality (‘“I
see you have separated the whites’, [Vermeer] said, indicating the turnips and onions.
‘And then the orange and the purple do not sit together. Why is that?’… ‘The colors fight
when they are side by side, sir’” (5)). This artistry makes her lust for Vermeer. This
parallel makes it both difficult and easy to work for the Vermeers. It is easy because Griet
has a passion for the arts and therefore she is honing her craft. On the other hand,
Vermeer’s success reminds her of her fathers deteriorating career.
In this time period everyone knew his or her place. Griet at one point stepped out
of the normal mold of a maid. This stepping out is conveyed when Griet slaps one of the
girls:“[Griet] reached over and slapped her. Her face turned red, but she did not
cry…Aleydis and Lisbeth peered down at [Griet] solemnly” (22). Griet then continues:
“Then [Griet] went outside again, this time with a broom... I’ll tell our mother. Maids
don’t slap us.”’(23) This slapping shows a sign of independence on Griet’s part. It
illustrates that she is not only a maid, but is also a parental figure. Griet feels that because
of her lower economic status the children think less of her. The way that children are
raised is also revealed. The children of Vermeer were taught their entire life that they
were better than the people who Vermeer employed.
The pearl earring also plays a part to show evidence of the socio-economic status
of Griet. When Vermeer agrees to paint Griet he forces her to wear peal earrings. Pearl
earrings often symbolize wealth, which Griet has none of. Also, Vermeer forces Griet to
put the pearl earring in both ears, even though only one ear would be in the painting.
“Finally [Vermeer] reached behind him again. ‘You must wear the other [earring] as
well”’ (209). This puncturing (“Griet pulled the earlobe taunt and in one moment pushed
the needle through [her] flesh” (201)) symbolizes Griet’s duality of existence. This
piercing is only a pin hole of wealth. It does not diminish the lack of money surrounding
that piercing. But rather it exemplifies the fact that while Griet is a poor girl, she still has
a tiny hole of wealth.
This pin hole of wealth would not be possible without Vermeer. When Vermeer
finally decides to paint Griet, she makes her wear an earring. At this time Griet has no
piercing and therefore she must get one. To numb the skin, many ideas are suggested to
her, the first idea being ice, the second being clove oil. Vermeer refuses to pay for the
numbing of the skin, and therefore Griet must pay for it herself. Griet purchases the clove
oil, yet she feels terrible because it would cost her two days wages. When Griet goes
home to deliver her pay to her mother disapproves by stating: ‘“It will cost more than two
days wages to replace [the clove oil]…What were you doing, looking at yourself in the
mirror? How careless?”’ (201). The carelessness of Griet is flaunted because at the time
of the purchase, Griet ignored her upbringing and lived in the moment.
Another way that Chevalier displays Vermeer falsely proclaiming Griet’s ture
socio-economic status is through the hat. “You do not want to be painted…with satin and
fur and dressed hair. (182)” Then Vermeer comes down with three caps for Griet to
choose from. Griet states: “There were three caps, all too fine for me…(182)” In this
quotation, Griet expresses her feelings toward acting different a class, by stating that the
caps the Vermeer gives her are “too fine for her”. This also relates to Griet’s duality of
existence. In this part of the novel, Griet feels torn between the poor life that her father
creates for her and the life of luxury that is felt when working for the Vermeers. Griet still
hold true to the very humble life that her father makes for her. The denial of an artificial
life creates a portrait of who Griet’s character truly is. While many would deny their past
and embrace the future, Griet does just the opposite of that, accepting the person she was
as who she will be, no matter the consequence.
In Tracy Chevalier’s novel The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Chevalier creates a
piece of artwork contrasting Griet’s socio-economic status and Vermeers socio-economic
status. In the novel, Chevalier illustrates the hardships of not having money, yet still
having a heart and keeping the memories of when one does not have money close to her
heart. This parallel between money and memories is displayed though Griet’s duality of
existence, between her original modest home life and her new glamorous work life. This
parallel between lives confuses Griet because she no longer lives at home, and therefore
it makes it easier to slip into her new life, yet Griet holds true to the fact that money isn’t
Chevalier, Tracy. Girl with a Pearl Earring. New York, New York: Penguin Putnam Inc.,