Tattoos are Permanent Labels

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.

Veronica Mars, the World Weary Detective

In Veronica Mars, Veronica is a social outcast who spends her time observing the social hierarchy present in Neptune High and the surrounding community. She is ostracized for many reasons, including her financial situation, her unsolved rape, and her tendency to befriend other social outcasts. However, one of the most prominent reasons for her isolation is her family’s disgrace.

Early on in the pilot episode, we learn that Veronica’s father, the ex-sheriff of Neptune, is almost universally disliked because of how poorly he handled the Lilly Kane murder case. Veronica’s mother left the family as a result of this fall from social grace, leaving Veronica alone with her father. From that point on, Veronica became an outsider in the social hierarchy of Neptune High. Her isolation is best depicted in the scene where Veronica is sitting alone at lunch, as the rest of the school passes her in a blur. Here, her feelings of rejection and betrayal are apparent in her facial expression and the way she stabs angrily at her food. She also appears very alone in the scene, since she is the only one in focus while her classmates are out of focus.

Veronica’s bitterness is a defining aspect of her character throughout the pilot episode, and probably follows her throughout the series. In the opening scene of the pilot episode, we see Veronica in a dimly lit car, next to a sketchy motel on “the wrong side of town.” Everything about the scene—Veronica’s narration, the lighting, the music—gives an impression of edginess. From the very beginning, we see Veronica as a strongly cynical character, one that fits well into the hard-boiled detective motif that is common in film noir. Although Veronica is young and female, distinguishing her from traditional noir detectives such as Sam Spade or Jeff Jefferies, she follows in their footsteps in her sense of world-weary cynicism and alienation from society.

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Sherlock and the Art of Mirroring


One prominent feature of  “A Scandal in Belgravia” is the use of profile shots—one-sided views of characters. The use of these camera angles is particularly striking in two particular scenes: when John finds Sherlock sitting in Buckingham Palace, and when Sherlock sits alone in Irene Adler’s sitting room. With the way the scenes are set up, the viewer can almost imagine a mirror placed in between the two photos, with Sherlock reflected in each of them. He even appears to be staring at himself across the different shots.

In both the Buckingham Palace scene and the sitting room scene, Sherlock sits slightly off to the side and is distanced from the camera.Everything in both scenes is entirely focused, so that it looks like a painting or a photograph. The stillness of each scene also helps to convey the impression of a photo. Both rooms feature a background that fades symmetrically into the distance, drawing the viewer’s eye at first to the center of the shot rather than to Sherlock, the main character. Both rooms appear to be filled with light and light colors, except for a few jarringly dark anomalies. In Buckingham Palace, Sherlock’sdark suit sits on the table; in the sitting room, Sherlock is dressed in black.

In a strange way, the shots are as opposite as they are alike. In the Buckingham Palace scene, Sherlock sits on the left side of the shot, facing right, and wears a white sheet. In contrast, in the sitting room scene, Sherlock sits on the right side of the shot, facing left, and wears a black suit. His body language is also opposite: in Buckingham Palace, Sherlock maintains a very tense and protective posture, while in Irene Adler’s sitting room, he is clearly very relaxed and holds his hands and arms loosely. This body language is slightly counterintuitive, considering the fact that in Buckingham Palace, Sherlock is supposed to be among friends, while Irene Adler is a known enemy.

The two mirrored scenes emphasize the differences between Sherlock and the rest of the world. In Buckingham Palace, Sherlock Holmes is out of place and uncomfortable. This is shown by everything from the tight posture that he maintains throughout the scene to the fact that he is wearing white while everyone else is wearing black (the fact that he resisted changing into a black suit to match everyone else is significant as well). In Adler’s sitting room, Sherlock is much more in his element. His ease with his surroundings is reflected in the fact that, once Adler puts on his coat, she becomes almost a mirror image of him, highlighting an equality and kinship between the two characters that Sherlock clearly cannot experience anywhere else.

Spade’s Outburst

“’I distrust a man that says when’…’I distrust a close-mouthed man.’”

“’Ah, Mr. Spade,’ he said with enthusiasm…Spade took the hand and smiled.”

“’You’re the man for me, sir, a man cut along my own lines.’”

“The fat man’s eyes were dark gleams in ambush behind pink puffs of flesh.”

“Then Spade rose and stood close to the fat man, looking down at him, and Spade’s eyes were hard and bright. His voice was deliberate, challenging: ‘Here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding.’”

“’You see,’ he said blandly, ‘I must tell you what I know, but you will not tell me what you know. That is hardly equitable, sir. No, no, I do not think we can do business along those lines.’” (quotes from p. 105-109)


These quotes are taken from the first meeting between Gutman and Spade. The scene features the two men discussing the Maltese Falcon and the mystery surrounding it. One feature of the passage that stands out is the repetition of the word “distrust,” and the proximity of the related word “ambush.” Words such as these are jarring in the otherwise cordial conversation between Gutman and Spade. The contrast between which words are used and how they are used gives a good impression of the underlying tension in the passage, a tension that builds throughout the entire encounter. In the beginning of the passage, the words used to describe Spade and Gutman are pleasant: Gutman is enthusiastic and Spade smiles. As the passage progresses, the conversation between Gutman and Spade shifts from outwardly happy to merely polite, with phrases such as “politely attentive” used to describe Spade. Finally, Spade’s voice is described as “deliberate” and “challenging” while repeating Gutman’s mantra about “plain speaking and clear understanding.” The words used in the passage trace the breakdown of civil communication between Spade and Gutman, culminating in the sudden explosion of Spade’s temper at the end.

Another significant element of the passage is the repetition of the word “line.” Early on in the conversation, Gutman calls Spade “a man cut along my own lines.” This is a very ironic statement, since Gutman’s rolls of fat are nothing like Spade’s hard lines. The passage ends with Gutman saying to Spade “I do not think we can do business along those lines.” The concept of being along certain lines puts the underlying tension of the passage into words. Both Spade and Gutman have established certain boundaries, or lines, that neither will cross, from forced civility into a more authentic sense of hostility. The fact that Spade’s outburst directly follows the word “line” suggests that Gutman has crossed one of these unspoken lines, bringing the true tone of the conversation into the forefront.

By examining the conversation around Spade’s outburst, we can deduce the reason for his loss of temper. The comment that appears to set Spade off is the suggestion that he is not being fair—that the business agreement he is developing with Gutman is not “equitable.” If we look farther back in the story, Spade says to Brigid that he “doesn’t like being hit without hitting back.” This indicates a desire on Spade’s part to be on even footing with others, a trait that he prides himself on. When Gutman suggests that Spade is not being fair, he crosses a line. Spade’s pride is wounded, and he responds by shattering the tension of the scene.

Spade’s Search for Brigid

“His eyes and thick fingers moved without apparent haste, and without ever lingering or fumbling or going back…probing, scrutinizing, testing with expert certainty. Every drawer, cupboard, cubbyhole, box, bag, trunk—locked or unlocked—was opened and its contents subjected to examination by eyes and fingers. Every piece of clothing was tested by hands that felt for telltale bulges and ears that listened for the crinkle of paper between pressing fingers. He stripped the bed of bedclothes…He pulled down blinds to see that nothing had been rolled up in them for concealment…He poked with a fork into powder and cream-jars on the dressing-table…

“He did not find the black bird.” (p. 90)


In this passage, Spade searches Brigid O’Shaughnessy’s rooms for the Maltese Falcon. On the surface, the passage features Spade overturning Brigid’s apartment in his search, and coming up empty-handed at the very end.  However, the language and sentence structure used to describe Spade’s search can indicate another meaning for the passage. One of the most distinctive characteristics of this passage is the extensive use of different types of verbs. Words such as “lingering,” “fumbling,” “probing,” and “scrutinizing” are dominant in the beginning of the passage—all words that convey slow and leisurely movement. However, as the passage progresses, we see verbs that convey more aggressive movement: “stripped,” “opened,” “tested,” “pulled,” and “poked.”

The structure of the sentences in this passage is also significant. The beginning of the passage features long and wordy sentences that are usually in the passive voice. Once the more aggressive verbs emerge, however, the sentences become short and choppy, usually beginning with “he” and featuring the active voice. The language used in this passage reveals a transformation in Spade’s character from apathetic and removed to emotional and involved.

The syntax and sentence structure in this passage indicate that the scene is not only about Spade physically searching Brigid’s rooms; it is also about Spade’s attempts to work out the mystery of Brigid O’Shaughnessy herself. The language used in the passage is very physical and intimate, with verbs such as “stripped,” “pulled,” and “scrutinizing.” Words such as these seem to draw a connection to the physical and emotional intimacy that Spade and Brigid experienced with each other the night before this passage takes place. In the scene before this passage, Spade tries to see through Brigid’s layers of disguise through words, but fails when she continues to lie to him. In the morning, Spade takes a more physical approach to the same problem by searching her rooms, but fails again. At the end of the passage, Hammett says that Spade “did not find the black bird.” To Spade, the black bird signifies the truth about Brigid, one that he has yet to uncover. This passage describes Spade’s efforts to strip away the layers of lies and deceit that Brigid O’Shaughnessy uses to cover herself, in order to see what naked truth lies beneath.