How are power struggles portrayed in Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier?

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Power struggles are everywhere in Girl With a Pearl Earring , but what's notable is that no one ever enjoys complete power or control over anyone else. This includes the humble housemaid Griet. In cleaning Vermeer's studio Griet is given exclusive access to the painter's inner sanctum, a part of...

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Power struggles are everywhere in Girl With a Pearl Earring, but what's notable is that no one ever enjoys complete power or control over anyone else. This includes the humble housemaid Griet. In cleaning Vermeer's studio Griet is given exclusive access to the painter's inner sanctum, a part of the house from which his wife and family are excluded. In turn, this leads to Griet's becoming a subject of one of Vermeer's most famous paintings, a painting which derives its power from the unusual dynamic that informs the relationship between the painter and his servant.

In that sense, one could argue that Griet's power lies in her being Vermeer's muse, a catalyst for the profound emotions that the artist will express in his great masterpiece. And in painting that masterpiece, Vermeer is also involved in an internal power struggle, between his inner compulsion to create, which manifests itself in the kind of objective detachment necessary for all great works of art, and the radical subjectivity of his amorous feelings for Griet.

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The power struggles between the employers and employees, which are emblematic of class conflict in Dutch society, largely dominate the novel. Despite some sympathetic temperamental connections between Vermeer and Griet, she is a worker in his home. Her family relies on the income she brings in, but her position is precarious. Griet has a large share of responsibility for maintaining the equilibrium by following orders, but the master and mistress have different ideas. In addition, Griet takes her orders directly from Tanneke, the housekeeper, so to please Vermeer himself, she must break with the established chain of command.

The earring is a potent symbol of these lopsided power relations. While the aesthetic side of Griet’s nature connects with the artist’s intentions in his works, she knows there is a clear line that separates her from even momentary possession of the mistress’s jewelry. Vermeer is shown with a stereotypical artist’s temperament, in which obsession with beauty and perfection overrides common sense. In this case, the power dynamic comes from the difference between romantic and pragmatic outlooks. His decision to impose his will on his employee, apparently oblivious to the outcome that she can easily predict, places her in an impossible situation as to refuse him will ultimately yield the same result—dismissal from her job.

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Power struggles can be seen at many different levels between diffferent characters.  One struggle occurs between Griet and the rather bratty child of Vermeer that constantly finds ways to undermine Griet's reputation in the household.  She frames Griet for the "theft" of the hair clip, and ruins much of Griet's work.  So, there is a struggle between those two characters.  Then, Griet also has to struggle against Vermeer's rich patron who wants to have Griet for some rather unsavory purposes.  She does not want to be taken advantage of by this man, and there is a definite power struggle that ensues.  Griet also has a power struggle with Vermeer's wife when she becomes jealous of her.  She demands that Griet leave, and Griet loses that power struggle in the end.

Then, take the character of Vermeer.  He has to struggle against an emotionally volatile wife who is very needy and manipulative.  He also has power struggles with his patrons, who demand certain paintings and even certain favors from him.  He has to acquiesce, because it means his living for his growing family.  His patrons like to feel powerful and in control, and they are the ones that hold the purse strings.  Also, Vermeer and his mother-in-law have struggles, in a bit of a love/hate triangle with his wife.

Power struggles are a major part of the story, and add a lot of dynamic to the plotline. I hope that helped; good luck!

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