Student Research Projects

Griet-ing the Gaze: Appropriations of Gender and the Male Gaze in Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring

Student Kyle Austin ‘14
Department English
Course English 489: Senior Thesis Workshop


Through history we have been enthralled by the sight of women in art. These paintings meet new eyes every generation, but it is the eyes of these women that captivate and beguile us indefinitely. Credit and appreciation is often given to the artists of these paintings, such as the Da Vincis, Manets and Matisses who look upon these women in such memorable ways. But what importance is the gaze if it is not returned? Who are these men without the women they see? My research, paired with Tracy Chevalier’s novel Girl with a Pearl Earring looks at yet another celebrated painted woman and her painter, Johannes Vermeer. Chevalier’s fictional embodiment of the woman in the painting comes in the novel’s main character, sixteen-year-old Dutch housemaid Griet, who is hired to clean the studio of the elusive painter Johannes Vermeer. While Griet’s ability to move without being seen is what leads her to working in Vermeer’s studio, before long she learns the consequences of being seen, and the both empowering and disempowering process that it can become. My research argues that the theories of Laura Mulvey, Luce Irigaray, and Judith Butler illuminate the purpose and power behind both the appropriation of gender and gazing that occurs in the novel. Chevalier illustrates Griet’s exposure to the gaze of men, the artist Vermeer, the patron van Ruijven, and the butcher’s son Pieter, as a way to initiate the subtly defiant message of the novel: woman can gaze directly back into the eyes of man.


Project took 1st place at VWC's annual 2014 Undergraduate Research Symposium, Division of the Humanities.