Girl With a Pearl Earring

Girl With a Pearl Earring Literary Elements


Historical fiction

Setting and Context

The novel is set in the city of Delft, in Holland, in a period spanning 1664-1676. At this time, Holland was enjoying a period of political stability and economic prosperity, and as result, it became a center of development in the visual arts, especially painting.

Narrator and Point of View

The novel is narrated in the first person by Griet, a young working-class woman. She is sixteen years old at the beginning of the novel. Events of the novel are told from her point of view and readers have to rely on her perception of what other characters might be thinking or feeling.

Tone and Mood

The tone and mood shifts at various points according to what Griet is feeling or experiencing. There is often an aspect of awe and wonderment as she encounters ideas, objects, and experiences that expand her perspective. There can also be frustration and anger when she confronts the limitations placed on her due to her class and gender. As Griet becomes closer with Vermeer and realizes the dangers this attraction creates for her, there is also a tone of fatalism and resignation.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Griet is the protagonist of the novel. van Ruijven is the antagonist of the novel.

Major Conflict

One obvious conflict in the novel takes place between Griet and the lecherous patron van Ruijven, who is determined to either seduce her or take her by force if necessary. Griet, aided by various other characters, tries to keep herself safe from him, although these efforts are complicated because of van Ruijven's wealth and power. This conflict is interwoven by other kinds of conflict: Griet's desires, ambitions, and intelligence clash with the limitations imposed by her social class. There is a conflict between her desire to remain autonomous and true to herself, and her desire to live in a more privileged world, even if this requires her to keep secrets and constantly be vulnerable.


The climax of the novel occurs when Catharina discovers the portrait of Griet, in which she is shown wearing Catharina's pearl earrings. Catharina is enraged and accuses Griet of theft, and Vermeer of betrayal. She tries to destroy the painting, and then goes into premature labor. Griet realizes she cannot remain a part of the Vermeer household, and leaves.


The dramatic events of the climax and the resulting trauma for Griet are foreshadowed when she first realizes that the portrait would be greatly improved if it included the pearl earrings. When she realizes this, she feels a sense of doom, and a fatalistic awareness that, although events to come will be damaging to her, she can also do nothing to resist them.




Rather than allusions to other literary texts, the novel most often alludes to works of visual art, namely actual paintings completed by Vermeer. Paintings alluded to in the novel include "The Procuress," "Woman with a Pearl Necklace," "The Glass of Wine," "The Milkmaid," and of course, "Girl with a Pearl Earring."


See the separate section on imagery.




There is the strong use of parallelism in the plotlines of Griet and her brother Frans. Both are sent away from their family homes to work. Both become involved in a mix of envy and desire in relation to their employers: they begin to dream of better lives and more opportunities, and they become dangerously attracted to married individuals. Frans, however, acts on this temptation, having an affair with the wife of his master, and eventually flees the city, whereas Griet controls her desire and focuses on building a stable life for herself. There is also the use of symbolic parallelism in small details of the novel: both in the novel's first scene, and at the climax, Catharina drops a knife in Griet's presence. The first time, Griet picks it up for her, while the second time she refuses to do so. On her first day in the household, Griet slaps Cornelia; many years later, she does so again when Cornelia taunts her on the day Griet visits the house after Vermeer's death.

Metonymy and Synecdoche