What are the themes of Girl With A Pearl Earring?

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One of the story's many themes is the power of perception. Ever since her father was blinded in an accident at work, Griet has had to act as his eyes. Seeing for two, as it were, has given her a heightened perception of the world around her, the same kind...

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One of the story's many themes is the power of perception. Ever since her father was blinded in an accident at work, Griet has had to act as his eyes. Seeing for two, as it were, has given her a heightened perception of the world around her, the same kind of perspective that an artist would have.

It's no surprise, then, that when Griet enters the household of the great painter Vermeer, she displays a powerful awareness of the subtle shades of light and color that go into making his masterpieces. In drawing closer to Vermeer, Griet is becoming gradually more isolated from the everyday world. This isn't just because of her emotional attachment to the artist but also to her remarkable powers of perception, which enables her to see things that others cannot see. Her world, like Vermeer's, has become aestheticized to the extent that she will never be able to look at it the same way again.

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One theme of Girl With a Pearl Earring is the move from innocence to experience. Griet matures as a person as she interacts with Vermeer, helping to grind his paints and serving as his model for painting. She learns, for instance, from Vermeer that what a painting, and by extension, the world "means" is freely open to each individual's own interpretation, which helps her learn to think for herself. She also experiences a sexual awakening emerge from her love for Vermeer, the sexual act symbolized by the piercing of her ear with the pearl earring. The pearl of the earring represents both the purity and great value of her interaction with the artist. We grow, the novel argues, as we get in touch with our creative side, but the growth is not without pain. Griet's ear piercing hurts and draws blood. Nevertheless, she has gained gifts from Vermeer.

Another theme is that of artistic vision. Griet is a poor servant girl, yet she sees with an artist's eyes. She loves to arrange the food she prepares artistically, possessing a strong appreciation of the color of the food items she works with. She also loves the colors of the paints she grinds. One does not need to have academic artistic training, the novel says, to be able to view the world with an artist's eyes.

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Clearly, one of the central themes of this excellent novel is the way in which characters are trapped by their social positions and the restrictions placed on them by society and a moral and legal system that prevents them from attaining freedom in its truest sense. The most obvious example of this is Griet herself, the protagonist of the novel. Note the way that she is forced to work at the Vermeer household because of the poverty of her family and the way that she must work to support both herself and her family. In the same way, however, Vermeer, it is shown, is trapped in a marriage where there is little love lost between himself and his wife, and he is prevented from pursuing his interest in Griet. His wife, too, is trapped in a social position that means she has a reputation and a standard to keep up, and where she is bitterly afraid and envious of the attraction felt between her husband and Griet. Pieter too is trapped in the sense that he identifies the attraction between Vermeer and Griet, and even though he loves Griet, he is powerless because of his social position to attack Vermeer or act to prevent him from pursuing his relationship with Griet. Every character to a greater or lesser extent is therefore bound by social position and the various restrictions that are placed on them through poverty or stature. Chevalier's achievement in this novel, as she does in all of her work, is to create and bring to life a very different world for us with the same sure strokes that Vermeer himself uses to vividly paint Griet.

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