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.