Throughout the novel, Girl With A Pearl Earring, many symbols are prevalent to the main character, Griet. Tracy Chevalier, the author, describes the obstacles a maid in the late 1600’s must go through in order to sustain a living incorporating a famous painting into the core of the story to keep the reader’s attention. In the beginning of the novel, Vermeer first experiences Griet’s artistic ability and intelligence when she is cutting up vegetables for her family. Vermeer and Griet’s relationship grows during the advancement of the novel, and her inventive personality shows more ubiquitous to the famous artist.
Vermeer, however, has a different relationship toward Catherina, his wife, than he shares with Griet. Vermeer is unable to share his love for painting with his wife. As Griet is introduced into his house, he has found someone with whom to share his opinions. The alluring servant girl, Griet, with no fault of her own, finds that her genuine beauty attracts Vermeer’s gaze, as a man and as an artist, so much that he is left with no choice but to convey her essence with just paint and a canvas. The similarities in the way they think bond each other in a special way only noticeable by the reader.
Griet’s life experiences are analogous to the symbols illustrated in Vermeer’s painting. These symbols include the colors that reflect Griet’s life and hardships, her elusive turban, the earring her master gives to her, and the uncommon additions Vermeer adds to the painting. “No, your hand needs to do this. ” He placed his hand over mine. The shock of his touch made me drop the muller, which rolled off the table and fell on the floor. I jumped away from him and bent down to pick it up. […] It took me much longer to grind my piece, for I was clumsy and flustered from his touch.
Color usage is of great importance and significance in the novel. The color groups that Griet separates the vegetables into is the first representation of her artistic ability. I always laid vegetables out in a circle, each with its own section like a slice of pie. There were five slices: red cabbage, onions, leeks, carrots, and turnips. I had used a knife-edge to shape each slice, and placed a carrot disc in the center. (Chevalier 5) The sections she separates the vegetables into are not only by types, but also by colors, which is noted by Vermeer. “The colors fight when they are side by side […]. (Chevalier 5) This began Vermeer’s fascination toward Griet’s actions. Vermeer’s paintings also illustrate another color scheme portrayed in the novel. The backgrounds in all of Vermeer’s paintings are not always a solid black. “There are two exceptions in which the women have only a solid black background with no context. In one of them, Portrait of a Young Woman, she looks as if she were sitting for a portrait, […] by contrast, [in] Girl With a Pearl Earring […] she is looking over her shoulder directly at the spectator” (Strout 1). While Vermeer begins to use Griet as an assistant, she does not seem to understand his choices of colors.
Instead of mixing the colors that her master requested of her, she would make assumptions of the shades and hues she believed would work well with the painting. Vermeer gives her a description of the clouds and how they incorporate many different colors, not just a single color. “You will find there is little pure white in clouds, yet people say they are white. Now do you understand why I do not need the blue yet? ” (Chevalier 101) The introduction of the camera obscura is what begins Griet’s fascination with his choices in color. Looking through the camera provides a way to view what is not seen with the naked eye, or therefore regarded. The image was treated as a projection of a reality transformed by the artist” (Cibelli 1). It helps to see the painting in a whole new way to where the painting will be at its best, displaying all of the necessary colors and shadings. It is a major component for Vermeer to allow his painting to come to life. “The camera obscura helps me to see in a different way,” he explained. “To see more of what is there. ” (Chevalier 60) Griet always wore a turban everywhere she went, even around her family. The turban, though, had a deeper meaning than one would assume to be true. Most of her peers speculated precisely why the turban was worn.
Vermeer, wanting to paint her with an exposed head, asked repeatedly to reveal her hair. “Griet resists revealing […] her hair; more than immodest, such [a] gesture seem[s] to her immoral” (McCarthy 1). With the resistance from Griet, he expressed to her that she should “find something […] to wrap [her] head in, so that [she is] neither a lady nor a maid. ” (Chevalier 182) The turban explained how sheltered and diverse society was during the 1600s and the family guidelines set upon her to follow. Seeing as how Tanneke, the other maid, had worn a blue and yellow turban in her painting, she could see “that blue and yellows were ladies’ colors. (Chavelier 183) While she is preparing her turban for her master to view, a part of the turban falls inadvertently. Although it shows none of her hair, Vermeer finds this to be a symbolic addition to the painting after seeing what Griet had forbidden society and him to witness for her entire life. I […] was afraid that the cloth would fall from my head and reveal all my hair. But it held – only the end of the yellow cloth dangled free. My hair remained hidden. “Yes,” he said then. “That is it, Griet. Yes. ” (Chavelier 181) Because of Griet being brought up in a Protestant household and her reserved way of life, she covered her hair.
The hair, she describes, is only permissible to be seen by her husband when married. It is comparable to that of seeing someone with no clothes. When looking at Vermeer’s wife, Catherina, in contrast she is a Catholic woman and residing in the upper class; the rules and regulations are different to Catherina than how Griet must appear. When Vermeer accidentally catches sight of Griet revealing her hair, he is taken by surprise, not only by the fact that it was a mystery the whole time, but more of the reason that her hair was beautiful.
The turban could be a representation of how she keeps her emotions hidden from her close acquaintances. She attempts to withhold information from her brother, Frans, about her work and the fascination she has for Vermeer. “You can hide it from our parents and your butcher man (Pieter), but you can’t hide it from me. I know you better than that. ” (Chevalier 167) The focal point of the painting is the luminous pearl. Delft, Holland in the 1660s was very class based; Griet and her family are regarded as commoners or lower class by the high society, such as Catherina and her family.
Vermeer’s decision to allow Griet to wear Catherina’s earring would have been very controversial in that time period of Holland. The fact that Griet is even in the same painting as the pearl earring is a major risk on Vermeer’s part because it shows the very close relationship he has to the maid. Pearls are linked with vanity but also with virginity – a wide enough iconographic spectrum. The most beautiful Vermeer’s work is undoubtedly that worn by the Girl with a Pearl Earring – a massive creation of highlights and obscure shadows (Bailey 1).
The pearl earrings symbolize the life that Vermeer wants of Griet. If Vermeer knows that Griet is only wearing one earring while posing for the painting, it hinders the artistic conveyance that he relies so heavily on. The knowledge of Griet’s left ear void of the other earring would make the painting a farce. Being natural in his studio provides more realistic products of his artistic ability. At the conclusion of the novel, she comes to the decision to pawn the pearl earrings because of her established life with Pieter and her willingness to disregard the life that she could have had.
The coins that she received in turn for pawning the earrings symbolize the intense and passionate experience that Griet and Vermeer shared while she sat for him in the virtuous painting. When Vermeer is trying to acquire the correct position needed for the painting, Griet becomes uneasy at his request for her to pose with her mouth slightly parted. Griet’s apprehension to allow herself to be painted in this way comes from the time period’s taboo of obscenity regarding young women being shown with their mouths open. “Virtuous women did not open their mouths in paintings. (Chevalier 198) Vermeer’s choice to use this promiscuous pose in the painting shows almost an opposite view of what one would expect when looking upon a maid. Griet’s yearning for intimacy suggested that the pose was less reserved than what the Dutch culture was used to. “No other paintings of single women by Vermeer could have made this interpretation at all plausible” (Strout 2). When in comparison to the further miniscule embellishments Vermeer added, one can acknowledge that the perception of a maid is contradictory to the generally accepted view of the lower class.
One can perceive that all of the symbols displayed in the novel have a relevance to the painting itself. The painting encompasses the odd color background, the curious turban appearing to have fallen, and the pearl earring. Examining the painting and novel in a deeper sense, the monotonous details that Vermeer added become noticeable. One will begin to see the turban, and realize that she is somewhat sheltered and Protestant. Then, noticing the pearl earring, one would begin to believe that she is wealthy. Throughout the novel, all of these assumptions come to life.