Tracy Chevalier

Girl With a Pearl Earring

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Girl With a Pearl Earring Themes

Vision and Blindness 

Central to this novel is its exploration of vision, including, but not limited to, artistic vision. The novel’s interest in the relationship between vision and blindness is suggested by the figure of Griet’s father, a former tile painter who loses his sight in a kiln explosion. There are subtle links between Griet’s father and Vermeer who, on the surface at least, appear to be polar opposites. Both men are integral to the development of Griet’s own vision. Acting as her father’s “eyes” has sharpened her natural propensity for “seeing things as they ,” including a careful attention to the qualities of light and color that are central to Vermeer’s work. However, while acting as her father’s eyes have laid a strong foundation for Griet’s eventual understanding of Vermeer’s artistic vision, her closeness to Vermeer increases the distance she feels from her family, suggesting that there is a type of blindness necessary to maintaining family harmony. This is especially evident in comparison with Vermeer’s own family, whose surface of calm seems to be always threatened by the chaos bubbling underneath.

The Costs of Artistic Genius

In conjunction with its exploration of artistic vision, the novel also examines the costs of artistic genius, particularly to those whose wellbeing is dependent on the artist’s care and livelihood. The costs of Vermeer’s unfailing devotion to his artare borne by Catharina and her children and are both psychic and material, as we see in the final scene of 1666 and in the family’s destitution following Vermeer’s death in 1676.

The costs to Griet are more complexly represented, as she is allowed to share in the creation of the painting of which she is a subject.While she is not as committed to the completion of the painting as Vermeer is, knowing that it will be her “ruin,” Griet’s participation eventually ensuresher freedom from the tyranny of the artist’s vision of her. Because of what she endures, Griet earns the pearl earrings that settle the debt her husband is owed by Vermeer. More importantly, Griet is released by the painting of her wearing Catharina’s earrings—released from life…

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