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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Stegl Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo explored
Tom Harris

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is Larsson’s social portrait of a corrupt, modern Sweden. He uses the unconventional characters of the novel to explore this using the themes of abuse, control and revenge. His social commentary is emphasised by referencing of the cultural calendar – Epiphany Day , Midsummer Eve, Children’s Day Parade – to maintain setting and atmosphere.

Swedish children’s novelist, Astrid Lindgren’s impact on Larsson is also hard to ignore and the writer is keen to share that influence even though his characters seem less than happy with the comparison.
"…he was nicknamed Kalle Blomkvist by his peers……"
"…In spite of his respect for Astrid Lindgren – whose books he loved – he detested the nickname."
"Somebody’d get a fat lip if they ever called me Pippi Longstocking…"
‘Kalle’ Blomkvist was Lindgren’s child detective who relished cracking codes and puzzles to solve kidnappings and murders. ‘Pippi Longstocking’ was her dysfunctional girl who struggled to find a role in normal society, always wanting things done her way.

Larsson’s reference to these fictional inspirations confirms his commitment to Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. He wants us to know everything about these characters, even their fictional birth.
Blomkvist acts as a political and social literary device for Larsson using the magazine ‘Millennium’ and its constant battle to unmask industrialist corruption. Larsson was among the world’s leading experts on right wing extremism and became editor in chief of Expo. He was also a consultant for Scotland Yard and it is this expert opinion that is at the core of the moral quest of the central characters.

Larsson uses the introduction of multiple characters to give the book a social structure. Salander is hired by Armansky who was hired by Frode, who was hired by Henrik Vanger to ensnare Blomkvist. This elaborate introduction mirrors the way the world works and Larsson doesn’t forget this as an integral part of his social commentary. Blomkvist even goes to prison because of a libel charge brought against him by the corrupt Wennerstrom, which is central to the books theme of revenge. These peripheral characters are also used in assisting the investigation. The retired, D.S Morell introduces us to the ‘Rebecka Case,’ the first ‘Cold Case’ crime committed by the killer. Even Blomkvist’s daughter Pernilla assists with the bible references.

There is a central control theme with Larsson’s characters. Henrik Vanger exerts control over Blomkvist using money and revenge. If Blomkvist trades a year of his life to document a history of the Vanger family and to find Harriet Vanger’s killer, he will be rewarded financially, professionally and emotionally.

Erica Berger, Blomkvist’s best friend, lover, and boss at Millennium, is a rarity in Larsson’s Sweden. Berger is a powerful woman who has taken control, professionally and sexually, and dominates the men in her life.
The use of genealogy in mapping a diagram of the ‘Vanger Family Tree’ provides us with our suspect list. Larsson surrounds Blomkvist with these suspects on Hedeby Island creating tension and playing on the isolation of our hero in a cold, harsh, unfamiliar climate. This device brings us into the familiar territory of a murder, mystery novel but the interjection of Salander twists this formulaic shape completely out of joint.

Lisbeth Salander is a computer ‘Hacker’ with tattoo’s and body piercings. She is a dysfunctional girl with a history of abuse, and the central character to the ‘Dragon Tattoo’ title. The depiction of Salander is Larsson’s model of the dark side of contemporary Sweden and a result of the evident corruption he has encountered. Salander suffers further violent and sexual abuse at the hands of her guardian, Advocate Nils Bjurman, but his control is not absolute.
"…and it did not bode well for Herr Advokat Nils Bjurman."

There are many examples of Larsson ‘daring’ the reader not to watch. He often instructs us when something significant, and often brutal, is about to happen. This is never more apparent than when an isolated Blomkvist finds himself inside Martin Vanger’s basement.
"Blomkvist had opened the door to hell"

Encapsulating the recurring themes of abuse, control and revenge, Salander records the evidence of her rape to gain emotional control over her abuser. The physical nature of her revenge is to tattoo Bjurman.
"The message was written in caps over five lines that covered his belly, from his nipples to just above his genitals: I AM A SADISTIC PIG A PERVERT AND A RAPIST"

Through her ‘condition’ - a result of corruption and abuse - Salander pursues her exacting moral stance to destroy Wennerstrom through his own corrupt financial world. This fuels Larsson’s social commentary on the Swedish economy and his own personal rage against the broken machine that is modern Sweden. ‘The Men Who Hated Women’ are revealed inside the torture chamber where Harriet was abused and other women were tortured and killed. Blomkvist reveals Gottfried and Martin Vanger’s motive of simplistic evil.
"Because it’s so easy,....Women disappear all the time. Nobody misses them."
Larsson uses statistics of abuse to support the content of the book, re-iterating the original title of his work.
"46% of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man."

The reality of a corrupt modern Sweden is never far away from Larsson’s thoughts. The truth is to be buried because of Salander’s resistance to authority and Blomkvist’s humanity. Henrik Vanger doesn’t have the information to destroy Wennerstrom and asks Blomkvist not to disclose his findings. Blomkvist echoes Larsson in his response.
"Congratulations; you’ve managed to corrupt me."

The mystery of Harriet Vanger is unravelled via London and Australia. Harriet fled Sweden to escape her abusers to become a woman, a wife and a mother. Sex and sexual abuse is always at the heart of ‘Dragon Tattoo.’
Salander and Blomkvist are not the archetypal heroine and hero and in their relationship Larsson doesn’t follow the generic formulas for success. The book culminates with Salander falling in love with Blomkvist, but this notion is literally ‘thrown away’ with Blomkvist’s Christmas present into a skip when Salander sees Blomkvist with Berger. This brings forth a sense of emotional abuse much different from the physical abuse she has suffered through society’s failings and the self-abuse of her tattoo’s and body piercings.
"The pain was so immediate and fierce that Lisbeth stopped in mid-stride, incapable of movement."
Here, we are far from an archetypal conclusion as Lisbeth simply returns to the isolation of her world.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Anonymous. 2009. Astrid Lindgren ­ Her life and popular childrenšs stories. Retrieved October 16th 2009, from Bostrom, E. 2008. Stieg Larsson. Retrieved October 16th 2009, from Larsson, S. 2008. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. London; Machelose Press.

Further Comment from the MA Group: MS Vodka writes

I wanted to explain Salander a bit more before we moved away from the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as how I see her. Looking first at the "mental illness" and then onto her hacking capabilities. This was something I was thinking about in class but remembered a bit more about what I wanted to explain.

I see Salander as a sociopath, not a natural socio-path whose characteristics usually involve manipulation from own gain, having no emotions; most disturbingly not having any emotions of guilt or remorse and so forth. Salander instead is a classic case of a child who has been deprived of childhood contact, she is from a broken home and so has not been brought up with emotions and happy situations as such, she has not learnt the correct emotional responses to situations, it is not that she can't feel, its that she has not learnt how to feel yet, and has not been in a stable environment during the key childhood phrases that will allow her to do so, similar peoples have been reported from psychological studies, one particular case looked into a group of children in a borstal, the more broken the home, the more emotional the abuse, the more likely the child would grow into the characteristics of a socio-path. (Bowlby 44 thieves, if am remembering correctly)

"We can conclude from this evidence that Bowlby was correct to emphasise the importance of the early years, but the effects of delay in the formation of attachments do not necessarily persist into adulthood and lead to affection-less psychopathy, as Bowlby predicted. Indeed, loving relationships and high quality care are necessary to reverse privation effects. "

But Salander has not been in any loving relationship as of yet (this is just based on book one) and so the effects of privation continue.

I hope this makes some kind of sense? if you have more interest could find some psychology journals for you to read, (to back these claims.)

Moving on to her computer abilities, I would like to point you towards several female inventors who worked with computers, I have not researched these women in depth but would like to still use them,1843 Ada Augusta Lovelace, laid some of the early conceptual and technical groundwork for high technology by helping develop an early computer.1952 Grace Hopper was credited with devising the first compiler, a program that translates instructions for a computer from English to machine language.2002 Under Helen Greiner's leadership, iRobot Corporation is delivering robots into the industrial, consumer, academic, and military markets. In 2002, the ROOMBA robot vacuum was introduced to the consumer products marketplace. the BIO of Dr. Grace Murray Hopper, she was the inventor of COBOL, which is a computer language, particularly as a child - "At the age of seven, she dismantled her alarm clock to figure out how it worked, but was unable to reassemble it. By the time her mother figured out what she had been up to, the young Grace Hopper had gone through seven clocks in the house "

The point I am making, is that there have been many women involved in the creation of computers, who understand things in a similar way that Salander does, some of them were born with this spark like Salander for just understanding how things work.Though it would be a rarity to find a privatise child (a child who has not been able to form an emotional bond) who is also a genius, I don't think it is impossible and its why I accept that Salander could be a real person.

Also if anyone here is a Criminal Minds fan, compare the character of Penelope Garcia, who is a hacker who lost her parents at an early stage with Salander. What makes Garcia different is that she was able to form an emotional attachment with the team she worked with, whilst Salander did not have a chance (in my opinion)

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