The Narrative, "Girl With The Pearl Earring" By Tracy Chevalier, Explores The Limitations Of Women In The 17th Century. Discuss.

1489 words - 6 pages

"A maid came free" The narrative explores the limitations of women in the 17th century. Discuss.

Despite the 17th century being an age of development especially in the fields of art the barriers of class, economic status and gender prevailed. Griet's eight-pointed star symbolises the different pathways that she believed she had in life. However, throughout Tracey Chevalier's "Girl with the Pearl Earring" which was set in 17th century Delft, Chevalier attempts to dispel this notion by manifesting the barriers in all aspects of her novel. Specifically, Chevalier explores the way in which women from the lower class in positions of servitude were subjected to sexual exploitation by men of the higher classes. She also explores how women were restricted not only as a result of the discrepancy of power between sexes but also because of the stereotypical roles assigned to them by 17th century society. Although the oppression of women is made dauntingly obvious, glimmers of hope and triumph are still perceived in the way some of the lower-class females, the people at the bottom of social hierarchy, were able to make the most of the chances life presented them.

It was an accepted truth that in 17th century society "a maid came free", meaning, society often considered it typical that women in positions of servitude, the most powerless positions, were subjected to sexual exploitation by men in higher positions. These men were those who were rich and of the middle or upper-class. Chevalier exemplifies this notion through the use of the main character Griet, an attractive maid, and van Ruijven the archetype of the wealthy male in the upper-class. Van Ruijven, Vemeer's rich patron constantly abused his power and position to take sexually harass and exploit not only Griet but also one of his kitchen maids.Griet finds out through Pieter that van Ruijven had taken an interest in one of his kitchen maids and so he wanted her to sit in painting with him. Van Ruijven encouraged her to drink wine each time they sat for a painting and before long she was carrying "van Ruijven's child". When Griet heard a rumour that she was to sit in a painting with van Ruijven she tells Maria Thins that she would not like to as it is obvious that "his intentions are not honourable". However when she later discusses her situation with Pieter it is made clear to Griet that van Ruijven "is very powerful" and she is "but a maid" thus highlighting how a man, because of the position and power that came with money could get away with regarding women in positions of servitude as mere objects that they could use as sexual gratification.

During the 17th century it was predictably the eldest male in the household who had the most authority and so Chevalier presents to us the character of Vermeer, who despite his mildness and detachment from domestic life, proves to be the most powerful in the household. Vermeer, is a self-absorbed artist who "would never stop working on a painting if [he]...

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