Religion obscures Blomkvist’s search for truth by acting as an uncrackable, cryptic code due to his disassociation with religion. By encountering faith in such negative ways, he becomes inclined to distrust religion, illustrating the controversy that it causes in Blomkvist’s universe. When he seeks out the Vanger’s pastor during Harriet’s lifetime, Otto Falk, he is confronted with messages from the mentally-decaying old priest, of which Blomkvist is unable to decipher the meanings. Falk speaks of the “sola scriptura,” the “sufficientia scriptura,” and the “sola fide,” all of which refer to Catholic scriptures and Catholic faith. “Blomkvist [understands] nothing of this”(442), further revealing his lack of religious knowledge. These scriptures outline the necessary steps to gaining sola fide, or the single faith: Christianity. The fact that Blomkvist is completely lost when these scriptures are mentioned illustrates his disassociation from the Christian faith and how it gives him an outside perspective of the religion and its practicers while acting as a barrier that restrains him from knowing more. All of these religious references overwhelm Blomkvist, who does not understand the pastor’s words until Strandh explains them to him. Blomkvist encounters a similar situation when the mystery Harriet’s journal is solved by his daughter. To Blomkvist, the seemingly random assortment of names and numbers is almost impossible to crack; when his daughter solves the puzzle for him by revealing that they were all passages from the bible, Blomkvist is able to make an “intuitive leap”(347) that allows him to analyze the murder cases with more clues in his pocket. It is obvious that all the recent contact Blomkvist has had with religion has changed his mentality as a reporter and an investigator, but it is possible that he assigns too much fault to religion. When Salander she tells him that she thinks he’s “wrong” and that it’s not just an “insane serial killer who read his bible wrong”(418), it exposes the possibility that Blomkvist is been caught up in an illusion that Christianity is to blame, assigning meaning when there is none. His searching for conclusions rooted in christianity is an example of religion’s obscuring properties; he believes that religion is the basis of the murders even when the evidence does not necessarily fit. Salander’s clear interpretation of the murders as committed by someone “who hates women” makes Blomkvist reconsider his stance by making religion seem less important than it had been, previously. It still, however, proves that Blomkvist is influenced negatively by religion due to its obscuring of Blomkvist’s search for answers.
Steig Larsson creates his main character detectives to be the stereotypical “outsiders” in their society. Larsson sets up his novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, to have two main characters that are both forced into being outsiders in their society in attempt to make them powerless.
One of his main characters, Mikael Blomkivst, after being exiled from his magazine, Millenium, is taken in by Henrik Vanger. Vanger is one of the oldest of the Vanger family of Vanger Corp. Henrik employs Blomkvist to attempt the unsolved disappearance of his 16 year old niece, Harriet Vanger. Blomkvist is given full access to all of Henrik’s previous research and any other resources he may need to investigate the case.
The novel’s other main character, computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, was deemed mentally ill by the state and given a guardian to maintain her life and finances.
Lisbeth eventually teams up with Blomkvist in an effort to solve the Harriet Vanger case.
Both Salander and Blomkvist have been taken out of their positions of power and in a way exiled to Hedeby Island with the Vangers. As a result of the information they are given access to, Salander and Blomkvist are actually put in a position of power rather than being left powerless. In their research, they uncover a lot of dark secrets of the Vanger family, this knowledge is what allows them to be in a position of power.
A theme that is brought up over and over again in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is that the financial circumstances-be it success or shortcomings- play a large role in the motive in which characters operate under. However, one particular faction represents the common financial status that justifies her modus operandi only to not realize that what she desires is not what she really wanted.
Representing the “norm” of the financial status we have Lisabeth Salander, classified as mentally ill and thus has no authority over her assets while such control is delegated to another individual in which he or she will inherit complete control of such aspects of her life. Due to the death of her previous guardian she is assigned Bjurman, a sadistic pervert. On paper, Salander is a financially stable citizen who works for Milton Security. However, because of the classification that is forcefully attached to her records, she is under Guardianship, a type of control that easily falls victim to malevolent individuals such as Bjurman. Knowingly so, Bjurman takes advantage of the Guardianship system by eliciting sexual favors from Salander in exchange for granting Salander allowance. As a result, Salander retaliates by raping Bjurman. This type of reaction is abnormal to say the least. A “normal’ person would remain shocked for a period of time and likely be afraid of the individual who has taken advantage of them. However, Salander is far from normal. She is unshaken by the rape and rapes Bjurman. So why does she do so? Simply put, she needs the money.
However, her reason to acquire more money contradicts the style in which she works under. Salander is a freelance agent at Milton Security and as such she accepts jobs only as needed as said jobs are enough to cover her expenses. But things just do not add up if we juxtapose this with the reason she desired money from Bjurman and the frequency she works. Salander wants the money for the new computer that she desires but her personal savings does not cover the cost of the new computer. This predicament brings into question why Salander only accepts the jobs that she wants to if she needs money. Examining this from a liberty standpoint, the answer frees itself from the darkness that is surrounding this behavior. Salander works the jobs she wants to so that she is able to control how she wants to spend her time, working only when she wants to work. All her life, people have tried and failed to understand her. But in the process of doing so, she was institutionalized for psychiatric evaluations, a type of deprivation of freedom that has deeply affected her current life. She likes freedom and no one is going to take it away from her. Part of the reason why she “got along so well” with her previous guardian was thanks to the ability for her to roam and live how she wanted to live. In essence, Salander thought that she needed money but what she really wanted was freedom; with freedom, money is no longer an issue.
As human beings we seek out company and being accepted into a crowd, but by continuing with the same mob mentality nothing would ever get done. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a prime example of how individuality is liberating and eye opening, showing that by taking a step outside of what’s understood so that you can understand why it is. Lisbeth Salander is a character who, considered by the masses, does not fit in. By viewing her through the lens of societal norms, she by no means is a person who “fits in”. In addition, Blomkvist also is another character in the novel who is tossed out of the “in” and now is out on his own, investigating a strange case. Blomkvist was a character who stood with the crowd, someone who used his skills to elevate himself to a high economical and work reputation. After his libel case however he is shamed and dropped to be with the outcasts of society. At a first glance, these two characters stand completely against the notion of humanity seeking company.
Blomkvist and Salander interestingly enough do not meet up with one another until roughly halfway through the novel, meeting with an awkward situation for her. Funny enough, while these two characters are individuals, they meet and create a micro-society, called a relationship. Even with all their ostracizing characteristics (tattoos, strange romantic relationship habits, tarnished reputation) they find one another and actually pair up nicely to make a good team.
These societies though are not necessarily the answer. While Mankind greatly looks to one another for comfort and aid, these bonds can quickly become terrible influences on one another. The Vanger family is a perfect example of this. Isolated on their own little island, the Vanger family has fermented into a corrupt and gross shackle that bears down on all the members of the family as well as those around it. It is by viewing Salander and Blomkvist against the Vanger family that truly draws the conclusion of this book in regard to relationships. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo shows that while relationships are what we as people seek: comfort, understanding, sharing of ideals; but these things can go sour if people as the individual does not match up.
The Frame: Who are the Real Victims?
From the very onset of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, Stieg Larsson implements an air of uncertainty. However, at first glance the novel may seem to be straightforward, but upon further investigation it is revealed to be even more complex than originally thought, even breaking down the literary fourth wall separating the readers and the characters within the novel.
Larsson uses many techniques to connect characters and his audience, most often through the repetition of new information that may seem to be important. For example, throughout the prologue of the novel, a description of a veteran police officer and an old man, Larsson thrusts us into an investigation with a rush of information such as numbers and cities. At this point, the audience has no context behind the mystery, only specific information. This allows readers to create assumptions that may later lead them down the wrong track.
From this point, Larsson’s next use of repetition throughout the prologue and much of the novel may lead us to believe that he has been playing the audience into a trick. The repetition of the word “frame” throughout the prologue could hold many meanings. Obviously, in the literal and physical sense of the word, there are frames all over the man’s room. However, on a deeper level, Larsson may be changing the definition of a frame from a noun into a verb. Perhaps this repetition is a hint for an expert detective reader that he or she should not always believe or jump to conclusions based on what they see.
It can be argued that Larsson is simply framing this entire novel, simply to mislead both characters within the novel, and those reading the novel. Perhaps Larsson is simply implying that framing others may be a common theme throughout the rest of the novel, or he may even be taking a cinematic definition of a frame, hinting to the audience to pay close attention to each and every frame of the novel. While this analysis may seem fairly strong, certain aspects of the prologue may lead to complications down the road. For example, when describing the police officer’s career, Larsson explains that his ninth murder case went unsolved, and in the old man’s room, the ninth slot in the first row was missing a frame.
“Money?” Frode said.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens with mystery, but proceeds to weave a tale of finance. Blomkvist is a financial reporter, guilty of libel and without much money himself. When Salander is giving her report to Frode about Blomkvist, Frode asks her about his financial state. She replies simply with, “He’s not rich, but he’s not starving. Income tax returns are attached to the report. He has about 250,000 SEK in the bank, in both a retirement fund and a savings account. He has a bank account of around 100,000 kronor that he uses as cash for working expenses, travel and such.” Blomkvist is not rich. Converted into USD, he has just under $40,000 in the bank and around $15,000 for travel, placing him directly in what we would consider the “middle class”. He is our “everyman”, our control group, in Larsson’s study on class and corruption that is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Stieg Larsson represents the lower, middle and upper classes in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, weaving their stories together into one narrative, solving the mystery of the murder of Harriet, Henrik Vanger’s grandniece. The Vangers are Larsson’s upper class, they are wealthy, they have power and they know how to wield it, as shown when Henrik announces The Vanger Corporation’s partnership with Millennium, Blomkvist’s magazine that is having financial trouble after his conviction of libel. But Henrik Vanger’s cooperation with Millennium, isn’t out of the goodness of his heart, he want’s Blomkvist to solve the case and he can’t have him distracted by news that his magazine is about to go under. Blomkvist mentions numerous times, most specifically when the two of them first meet, how Henrik is a practiced politician, how he can get what he wants by spinning words and telling a story that gets you hooked. But while Henrik never openly does anything illegal, the rest of the Vanger family has secrets behind closed doors. The entire Vanger family is full of anti-semites and as we later learn, murderers and rapists. We get to discover all this as Blomkvist, who is both firmly rooted in the middle class and a reporter who investigates corruption amongst the wealthy, begins his search for who killed Harriet.
However, Blomkvist isn’t alone in his search for the killer. Soon he is joined by Lisbeth Salander, a lower class hacker who did the background check on him. She is representative of the lower class, though interestingly, by choice. Dragan Armansky makes note in the novel that she could be making far more money than she does, but that she chooses the freedom of her time over additional money. This could partially be that in her experiences with researching people for her job with Milton Security, she has seen how people with wealth are so easily and so often corrupt. However, with her job as a hacker, this brings up the question of what Larsson believes to be corruption.
Blomkvist is the middle class reporter and the one who is always bringing up the topic of calling the police, something the Henrik and Lisbeth are often against. Larsson paints Blomkvist as the “good boy”, the least corrupt of everyone, but even towards the end, he’s ok with Lisbeth using less than legal methods of gaining the information he wants. The Vanger family is full of corruption, anti-semites, murderers, rapists and terrible people in general. Lisbeth has no regard for privacy, digging into people’s computers illegally to obtain the things she wants. While the Vanger’s are generally portrayed as being the worst of these, Larsson’s narrative asks a question about money and corruption, whether it is wealth that corrupts, or if humans are already corrupt by nature and the wealthy are simply the most visible.
The use of tattoos in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo highlights themes of individualism and society between the characters of the novel. Tattoos are especially significant in creating the characters of Lisbeth Salander and Bjurman. Lisbeth’s tattoos are frequently discussed in the text, and are usually acknowledged in the context of someone else looking at her. Her tattoos are first introduced through Dragan Armansky’s point of view. A tattoo artist also references her multiple tattoos, and Blomkvist describes them in detail later on in the story. However, the tattoos are never described by Lisbeth herself, indicating that while other people focus on her tattoos, the tattoos have become a part of Lisbeth that she does not feel the need to explain.
From what we know about the wasp tattoo and the ankle band in the context of Lisbeth’s life, it can be assumed that all of Lisbeth’s tattoos have emotional connections to personal events and memories. Lisbeth uses her tattoos to express her individuality. This form of self-expression fits with Lisbeth’s dislike of being labeled by society. She refuses to be labeled as a member of any particular sexual orientation, and she dislikes the idea of being labeled as a victim. She asserts her own individuality without the need of a label, and her tattoos are visual representations of this.
In contrast, Bjurman’s tattoo is used specifically for the purpose of labeling him. After Bjurman rapes Lisbeth, Lisbeth tattoos the words “I am a sadistic pig, a pervert, and a rapist” onto his body as revenge (p. 288). In her mind, this tattoo labels Bjurman in a way that makes his crime clear to anyone who sees him. The label will follow him for the rest of his life and affect all his future relationships. The fact that Lisbeth is aware of how dangerous labels can be may be one reason she tries to avoid them.
Of course, while Lisbeth’s tattoos emphasize her individuality, they also place a label on her. When other people look at her, they seem to only see her unique appearance—her hairstyle, her clothes, and her tattoos. During one of Armansky’s earliest encounters with Lisbeth, he sees her with a group of people who are “all dressed in much the same way” as she is (p. 46). Her tattoos, her clothing, and her manner all encourage strangers to categorize her into a particular group of people.
In addition, although each of her tattoos may be linked to some personal memory, they also can serve to place more labels on Lisbeth. For example, her wasp tattoo labels her as a hacker. The ankle band, intended as “a reminder,” could also label her as a rape victim. Following this interpretation, the rest of Lisbeth’s tattoos probably contain hidden labels as well. In her efforts to create a unique, individualistic persona for herself, Lisbeth unintentionally collects labels that may not be as explicit as Bjurman’s, but that are no less significant.
In the girl with dragon tattoo, sex is connected closely with control. In this book, women are depicted as at a disadvantage comparing with men most of the time. As the fact that it is hard for them to outwin men physically, women develop sex as the weapon to gain control over men.
In stereotype, men are dominating ones in sexual relationship. Women are expected to be passive and submissive. Yet Salander does not follow the norm. She has got the right to pick up her sexual mates. The book says that “…sex had always occurred on her conditions and at her initiative” (257). She met her partners mostly from the pub. She never falls for any man – in other words, she keeps her relationship under absolute control. Also, she cares so much about her initiative in a relationship that when she found out she is mildly irritated with Blomkvist; she decided to seduce him and have sex with him. And she knows that she will not miss it because Blomkvist is “one of these guys who can’t keep his hands off women”(434) according to her background report. She only takes action when she can predict the outcome.
Yet on the other hand, Cecilia, another woman Blomkvist has sex with, feels losing control as their sexual relationship develops. She is frustrated with the fact that she cares more and more about Blomkvist though she is the one who initialized this relationship. She acted as “a lovesick teenage girl who could not control herself” (279). She has been used to Blomkvist’s company so she feels even more at a loose end when he is leaving for sentence. So she decided to leave him for good to regain her control. Thus it turns out that refusal to have sex with a man can also be an option for woman to control.
However, the power of sex can be easily abused by certain men in the form of rape, which does harm to women more mentally than physically. Salander chooses to take revenge at Bjurman by making him suffer from the same thing as he did on her after she is raped by him instead of taking other ways because she wants Bjurman to realize the humiliation caused by power of sex.
Throughout “The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo”, all of the characters are competing to discover the unknown, to unearth the hidden mysteries. As Salander says “people always have secrets. It’s just a matter of finding out what they are”(138).
Salander’s job and hobby as a hacker revolves around finding all available information about the people she is investigating. When uncovering details about someone, she goes to all extremes including illegal practices such as breaking into other people’s property. She enjoys “digging into the lives of others”(363) and “loved hunting skeletons”(297) or the secrets people attempt to hide.
Mikael Blomkvist’s has his own share of exposing other’s lies and secrets. As a journalist he worked towards writing an article about the corruption within the Wennerstrom Company. After this, he begins to investigate the disappearance of Harriet Vanger by the request of Henrik Vanger.
In addition to these protagonists, Martin Vanger possesses a strong and creepy obsession to know every last detail about his victims. The Vanger family does not hestitate in discovering the truth to why Mikael is snooping into family history. Bjurman also pries into Salander’s life. Harriet searches for the truth behind a series of murders and attempts to tell Henrik the truth about Martin. All of these characters including Salander and Mikael use the information they gather about others to their advantage and believe that “knowledge is power”(361).
Although most of these characters spend their time and energy searching for truth and bringing the unknown into light, they are not so happy when their secrets are being told and are public. Salander is taken off guard when Mikael barges into her home and has a distain for Bjurman and his evasion of privacy. Mikael becomes angry when he finds that Salander has been on his laptop. Wennerstrom sues Mikael for supposedly writing false information about a secret investment. Martin and Bjurman lose all hope in their lives when their secrets of sadism are going to be publicized. Harriet has to go into hiding before she is able to tell the truth about her brother to Henrik. In addition to this, the pastor comments that Harriet was looking for “the forbidden truth”(442), making it appear that seeking for knowledge is not always positive.
These reactions create the question, how can everyone be searching for the truth of others yet still want to hide their own lies and secrets? As Salander says, “all people have things they consider to be private and that they don’t go around airing in public”(61). Larsson explores the effect that information, public or private, has on people. As people search to known everything about one another and hide their own secrets, it becomes evident that truth and the unknown is key to control and power. Unveiling secrets is not just about holding more knowledge over another but that this knowledge gives a person the ability to outsmart and hold control. Stieg Larsson suggests that each of the characters need to find a balance in hiding their own secrets and seeking out others to remain in power.
People judge others. It is a fact that is prevalent in today’s society and is a theme that is also present in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In this novel, judgment is based off of social status and reputation. Without a good social status, a person’s credibility is ruined.
In the opening chapters of the book, the reader learns of two main characters in the book. One is Mikael Blomkvist, a financial journalist who is facing media pressure after being accused of libel against a prominent financier, Hans-Erik Wennerström. Because of this, Blomkvist’s career and reputation are plummeting quickly. His social status and reputation are ruined and he fears that he will never be able to write again. The second main character, Lisbeth Salander, is in a similar situation. She too has virtually no social standing, and therefore no credibility, because she is a ward of the state. She is called insane and is under strict guardianship enforced by the government. Both Lisbeth and Mikael lack the credibility they need to successfully continue with their lives because they have been shunned by society in one way or another.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the reader is then introduced to the very prominent Vanger family. Henrik is the eldest of the family and established the corporation that generates wealth for the family. However, each member benefits from the family name. It gives them power, prestige, and a social standing that they may not have had otherwise. Their public credibility is quite large even though we later learn that the corporation is beginning to fail.
However, even though The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems to correlate good credibility with a well-known social status, it really just emphasizes that reputations are not always proven true. For example, as the novel progresses we learn of more and more dark secrets in the Vanger family: the death and disappearance of Harriet, the faulty relationships between different members in the family, and most importantly, Martin’s sadistic and murderous behavior. As the residing CEO of Vanger Corporations, Martin’s reputation and social standing are pristine and he is quite powerful in the business world. Clearly, his reputation was not accurate towards who he was and his behavior as a person.
Mikael is also a victim of judgment due to reputation. He did not defend himself against his story about Wennerström and is seen to be a liar with no cause except to create excitement in the business world. However, he too proves his reputation wrong, but instead of losing social status like Martin, he ends up gaining it. His newest publication on the Wennerstöm affair ignites the financial world like wildfire, restores his reputation and the credibility of the Millennium.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is structured so that the reader makes judgements based off of a given character’s social status. It is not until later in the novel where truth is finally revealed. This is similar to judging a person and than realizing their true colors only after knowing and speaking to them for some time. Clearly, although The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems to relate credibility to social status, it’s really emphasizing the age-old cliché of “don’t judge a book by its cover”.