Girl With a Pearl Earring

Girl With a Pearl Earring Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Griet's tile (Symbol)

The tile that Griet's father gives her symbolizes her connection to her family and to her roots. The image reflects her father's affection for his children, and when she takes it with her to the Vermeer household, it represents a commitment to not losing sight of who she is and where she comes from. However, Griet's exposure to Vermeer's more sophisticated works of art makes her aware of the limitations of this piece. It also proves more difficult than expected for her to retain a connection with her family as her worldview expands and grows. When Cornelia breaks the tile, it symbolizes the inevitable reality that Griet will change and grow as a result of the challenges to which she is exposed, and that her relationship to her family will shift over time.

The blindness of Griet's father (Symbol)

The blindness of Griet's father symbolizes a number of things. It reveals how luck and chance determine the outcome of people's lives: because of the unfortunate accident, Griet's whole life and the lives of her family are altered. At the same time, it also symbolizes their precarious social and economic position. Because of their working class status, the accident was devastating; if Griet's father had been wealthier, he might have worked under safer conditions. The blindness also symbolizes the limited worldview of her family: they have not been exposed to many things, and they are fearful and mistrustful of what they do not understand. Finally, Griet's father's blindness symbolizes his artistic insight: although he can no longer see the world around him, he is still able to rely on Griet's description and imagine and visualize her experiences.

The Pearl Earrings (Symbol)

The pearl earrings symbolize wealth and high social standing. Griet is resistant to wearing them in the painting because she does not want to pretend to be something she is not: a woman of privilege and high birth. At the same time as she resists what she thinks will be a deception, she is also drawn towards the beauty of the earrings and the chance to experience that beauty for once in her life. Likewise, the earrings also symbolize intimacy with Vermeer. By wearing them, she gives him control of her body and a willingness to experience pain in order to please him. It is because the wearing of the earrings reflects this intimacy that Catharina is so enraged when she sees that Griet has been wearing them.

Blood (Motif)

Blood is a motif that is often present when Griet encounters Pieter the butcher's son, or his father the butcher. Because of the nature of their work, they often have blood on their hands. Although Griet does not want to be snobbish or think that she is better than them, she finds this mark of their work repellent. Her resistance to the sight of the blood reveals her resistance to having to lead a life defined by hard work, undesirable tasks, and a modest income. Her time in the Vermeer household has exposed to her life of beauty and elegance, and she finds herself drawn to hopes and dreams that she might be able to share in such a world. She cannot help contrasting the educated and sophisticated Vermeer with the solid and dependable but often unexciting Pieter, and the blood reflects the difficulty she feels in mustering attraction to the butcher's son, and to the life he would offer her.

Knives (Motif)

Knives are present at various key moments in the novel. When Vermeer first sees Griet, she is chopping vegetables, and Catharina knocks a knife onto the floor. At the time, Griet helpfully and humbly picks it up. At the novel's climax, when Catharina attempts to stab and destroy the portrait of Griet, her knife again falls to the floor. This time Griet refuses to pick it up, instead leaving the household. This reveals how she has matured and gained confidence and a sense of self-worth: she is no longer interested in serving others, especially now that she has seen that even the upper classes often still behave in selfish and irresponsible ways. When Griet hears of Vermeer's death many years later, she is using a knife to cut meat, and is distracted by her shock, cutting her hand. The motif of the knife at these various moments reflects the fact that the longing Grief often feels, both for Vermeer and for alternate possibilities for her life, is sharp and cutting. It also reflects the cruelty shown by various characters, such as Cornelia, or the more careless emotional violence inflicted by well-intentioned but selfish figures such as Vermeer.