Critical Thinking On Girl With A Pearl Earring
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“Girl with a Pearl Earring,” written by Tracy Chevalier, is a fictional account of a true work of art . Set in 17th century Holland, the novel tells the story of a young Dutch girl of exquisite, albeit eccentric beauty, who came to be the muse to painter Johannes Vermeer; the painting itself came to be one of greatest representations of art during 1660. The novel itself is primarily based in fiction because most of Vermeer’s life is unknown; is biography has been accounted in only a handful of documents, used throughout the novel. However, most of it is embellished for drama and art.
It is known that Vermeer found something enjoyable about domestic life; he was drawn to it. Thus, he was drawn to Griet, who ultimately modeled for the painting in the novel. The novel itself tells of the time Vermeer spent in Delft during the 1660s . A young servant girl, Griet, is hired in order to help with chores around the home. Tragedy and turmoil follow her hiring. She plays the narrator of the play and, against all propriety of the time, soon enters into a passionate love affair with the estate’s master . This, of course, has little to do with art and may be a complete fabrication. However, it adds to the drama and dark romance that often accompanies Vermeer’s work.
Before the affair began, however, the painter and his mistress met innocently enough. Vermeer employs Griet as an assistant for himself. Only sixteen at the time, he is drawn to her sheltered life-style, but also her buoyant personality. They become closer as time goes on, and eventually Vermeer asks her to sit for him as the model of the now famed portrait Girl with a Pearl Earring . Griet, who again narrates the novel, appears to be a keen observer of the world around her. It may be this that Vermeer is most drawn to in this fictional account of his life. Being that he appeared to be keenly observant of the lives of others, it would make sense he was attracted to his quality in others. Moreover, his defined obsession with class system is defined in the book’s setting. Delft has a strictly defined class system. It appears Vermeer is near the top, while Griet is at the bottom.
Vermeer’s obsession with class, particularly the working class, would have been embodied in Griet. Her observance of the world around her could have sparked his passion and creativity, thus leading to such an embellished story. The representation of the painting itself is also interesting. Griet is a symbol of the working class; she toils each day in order to survive, though her spirit is not broken. The pearl earring, perhaps, represents the riches she, or her entire class, may never hope to attain, no matter how hard they work. The combination of the two may be symbolic of the unfairness of the class system Vermeer had observed. Another likely possibility is the combination represented in the novel may be the combination of Griet and Vermeer themselves, with Griet signifying her, and the pearl earring exemplifying Vermeer. A final possibility could be the earring denoted the beauty Griet allowed Vermeer to see the beauty in the working class, rather than the constant turmoil.
In sum, the 17th century fictional novel was a triumph. Loosely based on the few known facts about Johannes Vermeer, it embellished much of his time in Delft in an effort to create a dramatic love story about art. Griet, the narrator, tells a passionate story about an artist who is obsessed with class systems and painting. There are many possible representations of the painting we see after reading the novel. All of which are plausible and equally fascinating, given the beauty of the painting.
Chevalier, Tracy. Girl With A Pearl Earring. New York: Plume, 1999. Book.
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