Tracy Chevalier

Girl With a Pearl Earring

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Girl With a Pearl Earring Major Character Analysis


As the narrator and subject of this bildungsroman, Griet is the central character of this book and the only one whose mind we have access to as readers. Though she is in the process of maturing, and is thus not always a reliable narrator of her own feelings, nor a clear-eyed observer of the motives and actions of others, she is astute enough to provide the reader with a thorough understanding of her development from innocent girl to wise(r) young woman.

The novel’s focus on Griet’s development, on the push and pull of her relationship with Vermeer, and on her eventual choice to forgo a life that keeps her within Vermeer’s world, provides the necessary canvas on which to explore questions of female agency, artistic vision, and the importance of family and community. If Vermeer’s painting of Griet as theGirl with a Pearl Earring is representative of the possibilities of a life lived purely for art, her life after that painting is representative of life lived in duty to family. In this context, Vermeer’s masterpiece, instead of seeming the inevitable product of the talent of a genius, is, rather, the result of a young girl’s unfulfilled longing to choose a different path.

In the end, Griet chooses the path that a dutiful daughter should choose, but her story allows us to better see what is lost—and gained—in making that choice. 


An accomplished painter and Griet’s “master,” Vermeer is quiet, controlled, and difficult to read. At various points in the novel he alternately functions as Griet’s teacher,something of a father figure, and as her would-be lover—with their artistic collaboration standing in for sexual intercourse.His close friend, van Leeuwenhoek, deems his “eyes worth a roomful of gold” (186) but also recognizes Vermeer’s essential selfishness. As a result, he is dangerous to the women around him even as his selfishness is a necessary component of his artistic genius.


Mercurial and often clumsy, Catharina is also a devoted wife whose primary goal is to have many children—she is pregnant for most of the first three sections of the novel—and enjoy her place in bourgeois society as…

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