Girl With a Pearl Earring

Girl With a Pearl Earring Summary and Analysis of 1676


The action resumes ten years later, in February 1676. Griet is now married to Pieter and works beside him at the butcher's stall. She is also the mother of two young sons. Her father has died, but her mother helps her to take care of the children. van Ruijven has also died. Vermeer has recently died, leaving behind Catharina and eleven children, as well as sizable debts. Over the years, Griet has had only sporadic contact with the family, mostly through Maertge. When she married Pieter, the Vermeer family had abruptly switched butchers, leaving an unpaid bill of fifteen guilders. In part they blame her for the loss of a child: on the day of the confrontation in the studio, Catharina went into premature labor, and the infant later died.

Unexpectedly, Tanneke seeks out Griet and asks her to come to the Vermeer house. Griet goes to the house later the day, and is met by some of the younger children. Franciscus comments on her being the lady in the painting. Confused, Griet asks about the whereabouts of her portrait. It is explained that Van Ruijven’s daughter now owns it, but on his deathbed Vermeer asked for it to be loaned back to him. Maria greets Griet and sends her in to see Catharina and van Leeuwenhoek, who is the executor of Vermeer's will. They explain that before his death, Vermeer made a request, and Catharina is now going to honor it. Griet is shocked when Catharina gives her the pearl earrings; she tries to object, but ultimately leaves with them. On the way out, Cornelia maliciously suggests that Griet give her the earrings; Griet slaps her.

When she leaves, Griet is unsure what to do with the earrings. She goes to a pawnshop and sells them, receiving twenty guilders in exchange. She gives fifteen to Pieter, explaining that Catharina has finally settled the debt. She hides the remaining five in a secret place and never spends them.


The novel's final section reveals the choice that Griet made when she left the Vermeer household: to marry Pieter and start a life with him. This choice can be interpreted in a number of ways. On one hand, she asserts her independence by leaving her job as a servant in order to contribute to a thriving business and not having to answer to anyone. She might also be deciding to accept and embrace who she is: she will never be a member of the upper classes, but she does not need to be ashamed of her working class origins. Pieter may not have Vermeer's sophistication or artistic temperament, but he is honest and has integrity, and can openly be her partner, rather than requiring her to live in secrecy. On the other hand, by marrying Pieter, Griet seems to accept that she needs a man's assistance in navigating the world, and possibly also compromises her aspirations and ideals in order to settle. Although Pieter has been kind to her, he has also asserted power over her at various points.

There are indications that even with the new life she has built, Griet has never fully resolved her feelings for Vermeer. When she learns of his death, she is so startled that she cuts herself, with the physical wound symbolizing the impact of her grief. She is also agitated to learn that on his deathbed he wanted to look at her image and think about the portrait he painted of her. This would seem to indicate that Vermeer continued to have feelings for her up until the time of his death.

The strongest indication of these lingering feelings is Vermeer's decision to leave the earrings to Griet. This is the final humiliation for Catharina: giving up the earrings seems to suggest that she is acknowledging that Griet also has a claim to her husband. The economic situation in which Catharina now finds herself also closes some of the gap between them: she is no longer so elevated above Griet, and Griet in fact likely faces a more secure future. Griet's position of power and independence is further affirmed when she slaps Cornelia as she exits the house. Griet no longer has to worry about maintaining her position, nor does she need to be afraid of what people will think of her. She can finally stand up for herself when Cornelia tries to bully her.

However, the price of Griet’s new life has been giving up fantasies of the life she might lead. Griet knows the pearls are inappropriate and useless for the person who she is now, and she is no longer interested in playing at fantasies of being someone she is not. She makes the practical choice to sell them, and to use the money for her family's benefit. However, she also acknowledges that a small part of her is still invested in the past. By secretly hoarding the five remaining coins, she manages to be both an independent, pragmatic woman and an individual with treasured, sentimental memories. She will always have her secrets, and her past self will never be entirely lost to her. The conclusion of the novel is a bittersweet reflection on how even the most ordinary individuals may have untold stories hidden in their past.