The novel Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier is a historical fiction novel that explores the inner conflict between one’s values, responsibilities and desires. The story is revolved around sixteen year old Griet narrating her experience working as a maid for Johannes Vermeer in his seventeenth-century Dutch home. When Griet secretly becomes Vermeer’s personal assistant, their mutual desire to work together is compromised by their responsibilities to their occupations and Griet’s guilt over her dishonesty towards her family and loved ones. The text also explores the development of Griet’s sexuality and how the interest displayed towards her from a number of men conflicts with the value she finds in her virtue and the beliefs her religion decrees towards sexual relations.
Griet has intense inner conflict when she begins secretly working for Vermeer as she understands that the secrecy involved creates distance between her and her parents, and prevents her from carrying out her job to perfection. Although she strongly desires to learn more about art and spend time with Vermeer alone in his studio, her responsibility to provide for her family requires her to take care of her job and ensure there are no disruptions. As Vermeer’s wife Catharina is also Griet’s mistress, the time Griet spends cleaning his studio, a place that Catharina isn’t allowed to enter, causes her to distrust and even envy Griet, putting Griet’s employment in jeopardy. Just after her sister dies of the plague, Griet confirms her desire to work for Vermeer surpasses her responsibility as a maid:
“I was not able to work well then … only in the studio was I able to clean as I had before, maintaining the precision he needed.”
Griet’s desire to continue her secret tasks with Vermeer also conflict with her value of honesty regarding her family. Usually quite open with her parents, Griet knows the secretive nature of her assistance to Vermeer and his artwork would be heavily berated by her...