How does Griet evolve as a character over the course of the novel?
Over the course of the novel, Griet becomes much more confident and sure of who she is and what she wants. At the beginning, she is easily made uncomfortable in new and unfamiliar surroundings. She also feels unsophisticated and uneducated in comparison to the world inhabited by Vermeer. As time goes on, Griet realizes her own competence in a number of areas. She is able to tactfully maneuver through the complex emotional dynamics of the household, she is able to ensure that the house runs more smoothly, and most importantly, she has artistic insights that even Vermeer acknowledges and respects. As she learns more about people around her, Griet also comes to realize that almost everyone has secrets, desires, and complexities. This helps her to see that she is not worth less than anyone else, even though she is a maid. By the end of the novel, Griet is able to assert herself, choosing to walk away from a job and situation that is only causing her pain and danger, and to find a life that will allow her to be independent.
Why does Griet choose to marry Pieter after she leaves the Vermeer household?
Griet's feelings for Pieter are ambivalent throughout the novel. She knows that he is kind and caring, and that he can understand her experiences because he has also grown up working class. At the same time, she does not believe that he is able to expose her to new ideas or expand her perspective in the way that Vermeer is. Griet is torn between Vermeer's sophistication and sensitivity, and Pieter's dependability and fidelity. When she leaves the Vermeer house, she has a limited number of choices. She does not want to continue being subservient, which is what would be required if she were to take another job as a maid. At the same time, she is not in a financial position that would allow her not to work, and she does not want to be a burden to her family. Marrying Pieter gives her both the agency to be an active partner in running a successful business, and the support and protection she requires. It also allows her to build her own family; her relationship with her parents has been strained, and now that her sister is dead, and her brother has left the city, Griet is in need of a new support system.
Why does Vermeer request that Catharina give Griet the pearl earrings after his death?
Because the novel is narrated in the first person, readers do not have access to the internal thoughts and feelings of other characters. It is therefore difficult to determine the exact nature of Vermeer's feelings for Griet. During the time she spends working in the house, especially once she works as Vermeer's assistant, Griet risks her livelihood and reputation for him. She does whatever he asks of her, including suffering the physical pain of piercing her own ears. He not only does not reward or thank her, but also, when Catharina accuses her of stealing, he does not stand up for her and take the blame for what happened. The gift of the earrings reflects Vermeer finally acknowledging the sacrifices and fortitude Griet showed for her often thankless work. As Allan Hepburn explains, “Vermeer acknowledges and discharges whatever emotional debt he owes Griet when he gives her the pearls” (86). It also possibly suggests that he considered her to be his partner in some ways; Catharina clearly sees the earrings as evidence of Vermeer's love, which is why she is so jealous regarding who has access to them.
Why is it important that the novel be narrated in the first person by Griet?
The first person narration allows readers to experience Griet's thoughts and feelings. The painting on which the novel is based is famous for the mysterious, unreadable expression on the girl's face; by giving insight into Griet's experiences, Tracy Chevalier helps readers to imagine what might be going on behind that expression. Historical accounts, up until fairly recently, have also tended to focus on the lives and experiences of members of the upper classes, and often on men. The lives of the many working-class individuals, especially women and girls, are often obscured and undocumented. Indeed, one reason why there is historical information about Vermeer and van Ruijven, but none about the sitter in the painting, is that the sitter was a young woman. By telling the story from Griet's perspective, Chevalier reminds us that there are many untold and forgotten stories that have also shaped history.
In what ways does Chevalier evoke a historical setting in the novel?
Tracy Chevalier completed a great deal of research in order to be able write accurately about the city of Delft in the 1600s. Her novel uses small touches of detail to give a vivid portrait of a particular time and place. These details include, for example, the description of Market Square, and the food served at the feast. This technique reflects the strategy used by Vermeer and other Dutch artists in their paintings, where careful attention to small details such as shadows, light, and angles works to create a larger impression when taken as whole. Chevalier did not write a particularly long novel, and her writing is often somewhat minimalist in style; however, she uses careful touches of detail to achieve maximum impact and help a reader experience a strong sense of setting.