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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson

Important Quotations Explained

Chapters 27–Epilogue

Key Facts

1. “I think you’re wrong. It’s not an insane serial killer who read his Bible wrong. It’s just a common or garden bastard who hates women.”

These lines from Chapter 20, spoken by Salander after she and Blomkvist study the gruesome crimes of the serial killer they’re pursuing, serve as the source for the novel’s original Swedish title, Men Who Hate Women, and exemplify Salander’s belief in personal accountability. She repeats variations on the phrase throughout the novel as she encounters cruel and violent men, most notably in Chapter 25 as she argues with Blomkvist about whether Martin’s violent crimes stem from childhood trauma. For Salander, Martin’s abuse at the hands of his father and any pain he endured do not excuse nor rationalize his crimes. Rather, the quote reveals her deeply held belief in the importance of personal accountability. She argues that Martin’s, and by extension anyone else’s, violence against women is a deliberate choice, not a phenomenon that occurs in response to an unfortunate upbringing or a particular religious belief. As a result of these feelings, Salander punishes those who hate women with no regret and a sense of justification for doing so.

Additionally, the quote reveals Salander’s anger at what she perceives as the constant systematic abuse of women in Swedish society. She believes sexual abuse and violence against women to be a normal part of daily life to the point that, after being assaulted by Bjurman, she refuses to report the incident to the police because she does not believe they will view it as a criminal act. Since no one else in society holds these men accountable for their choices, Salander decides to do so herself. Her reference here to the serial killer as a common bastard indicates her understanding that such men pervade Swedish society and that, furthermore, they deserve utmost contempt. This contempt fuels the anger that eventually leads her to lash out at her rapist and then at Martin. Since the abuse of women is a fundamental part of society that Salander believes authorities simply accept, she takes it upon herself to police and rectify such violence.

2. Taking away a person’s control of her own life—meaning her bank account—is one of the greatest infringements a democracy can impose, especially when it applies to a young person.

This passage from Chapter 12, which directly follows the account of Salander’s sexual assault, critiques the guardianship system in Sweden as well as the way it promotes corrupt, predatory behavior. In particular, the narrator notes that the guardianship itself is an unwanted governmental imposition into private life. Salander’s life exemplifies this problem perfectly. Because of the way Salander looks and acts, the court misjudges her mental state and intellectual ability, though in reality she remains perfectly independent and able to take care of herself. But the court nonetheless imposes its judgment and essentially gives someone control over her, disempowering her and essentially making her captive to the whims of her guardian. Consequently, the difference between her treatment at the hands of her first and second guardians only indicates how dangerous a system dependent on the good nature of men can be. Because the court system is fallible, the guardianship can damage the vulnerable and the young, and Salander’s constant clashes with this system illustrate both her independent nature and the way in which a guardianship limits a person’s independence.

Also evident in this quote is the idea that economic control relates directly to an individual’s ability to control his or her own life. Because Salander exists under a guardianship that prohibits direct access to her finances, she essentially possesses no freedom or independence. Even her simplest needs cannot be met without prior permission. Salander’s rape proceeds from this situation and occurs as a direct result of her lack of economic autonomy. Since Bjurman controls her finances, he controls Salander’s choices and her body. As a result, Salander goes to any means to regain her financial independence and control over her own life, including her attack on Bjurman and her theft of a significant amount of money from Wennerström’s offshore bank accounts.

3. In her world, this was the natural order of things. As a girl she was legal prey, especially if she was dressed in a worn black leather jacket and had pierced eyebrows, tattoos, and zero social status.

This passage, following the guardianship critique in Chapter 12, further underscores the innate vulnerability of women in Swedish society and Salander’s belief that violence towards women is a socially acceptable act in her country. The disturbing philosophy aligns with Salander’s additional acknowledgement that the police will not think much, or at all, of her sexual assault and that the incident will not be prosecuted because such acts occur with such frequency that they seem ordinary. This view rings true later in the book when she later discovers, with Blomkvist, the many women that Martin kidnapped and killed. His careful studies of such women and his selection of them, as well as his seeming immunity from discovery, fulfills Salander’s belief that crimes against women largely go unnoticed and unpunished. The phenomenon both fuels Salander’s rage and inspires her to protect and depend on herself, as she feels outside sources will be unsympathetic to the plight of most women.

Additionally, these lines demonstrate Salander’s belief that only status, beauty, or wealth can help protect women against the violence they might otherwise suffer. Though women of all social classes suffer throughout the novel, women with financial means have at the least a method to escape their abusers, while beautiful or socially respectable women have a measure of power to wield against such abuses. In this case, Berger exemplifies the woman that Salander can never be. Wealthy, beautiful, and well-connected, Berger wields a great deal of influence and holds a great deal of agency over her life. The worst abuse she endures comes in the form of verbal degradation from the press. Unfortunately for women who have no close family or friends and very little in the way of financial protection, however, violence seems inevitable. Martin, we learn, chose his victims based on whether they would be missed. Depending on their social status, some women are essentially deemed unimportant—“legal prey” as the quote puts it.

4. “The Stock Exchange is something very different. There is no economy and no production of goods and services. There are only fantasies in which people from one hour to the next decide that this or that company is worth so many billions, more or less. It doesn’t have a thing to do with reality or with the Swedish economy.”

This quote, spoken by Blomkvist to an interviewer during the novel’s epilogue, sums up his cynical view of the Swedish economy and also underscores the nature of the economy as a system ripe for corruption. The stock market hinges on the words and actions of a small percentage of wealthy men, and as a result, allows those wealthy men unimaginable power and influence over the economy. It also, we learn, gives them power over the media. Throughout the novel, men like Bjurman, Wennerström, and Henrik have the ability to manipulate events because of that power, and they do so at will. No actual products are being bought and sold, but rather huge sums of money are passed back and forth, raising up some companies and destroying others, based on the decisions of these wealthy men. Consequently, Blomkvist maintains that the Stock Exchange is something of a fiction that they control.

Blomkvist also deliberately speaks these words in order to prove the societal need for investigative journalism and astute, observant reporters. Because the Swedish economy seems ripe for corruption, and because the men who run it have an interest in keeping themselves in power, he maintains that journalists must exist as watchdogs in order for the system to function properly and ethically. Blomkvist clearly considers himself one of those journalistic watchdogs. Therefore, not only does this claim reify Blomkvist’s status as a reporter and Millennium’s importance as a political magazine, it also works to restore the credibility Blomkvist lost due to his libel conviction. This quote essentially concludes Blomkvist’s evolution from a discredited reporter into a respectable, ethical journalist and establishes a new relationship between the journalistic and financial communities. While journalists previously disregarded or benefited from the rampant excesses of the system, they now have a mandate to check and correct them.

5. “Friendship—my definition—depends on two things. Respect and trust. Both elements have to be there. And it has to be mutual. You can have respect for someone, but if you don’t have trust, the friendship will crumble."

Blomkvist says these words to Salander in Chapter 27, after she returns from storming out during an irrational fit of anger provoked by her mother’s death and her inability to deal with her emotions after the Vanger case ends. Blomkvist’s definition of friendship, the last of three such entreaties he makes to Salander over the course of the novel, identifies the difference in their opinions about emotional openness in relationships. For Salander, who exhibits a great deal of emotional and verbal restraint and has little trust in others around her, such a definition of friendship seems antithetical to her very nature and perhaps even dangerous. Her bond with Blomkvist, however, differs significantly from her relationships with others, and she regards him more warmly and with more trust than most others in her life. By encouraging Salander to trust him, Blomkvist challenges her to continue evolving as a person, a transformation that becomes evident in the novel’s prologue as she cleans out her cluttered apartment and prepares to confess her feelings to him.

Significantly, Blomkvist’s heavy emphasis on trust in relationships both mirrors and complements the credibility he strives to maintain as a journalist. His desire for Salander’s trust mimics his desire to regain the trust of both his journalistic peers and his reading audience. In particular, Blomkvist recognizes that the libel charge severely damages his credibility. Ultimately, he manages to rescue his reputation with Salander’s help and her stellar hacking skills, and through the process builds a new and fascinating relationship that changes his views on ethics and deepens his understanding of others. Just as she helps him repair his credibility with his readers, he seeks to provide her with the tools necessary to repair and continue a friendship with him. That Salander implicitly accepts his offer of friendship by coming to bed with him that evening indicates an evolution in her personality and also reaffirms the strength of their bond.

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