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Due to several unpleasant past encounters, Salander believes going to the police about her assault would be useless. In her view, women suffer abuse on such a regular basis that it seems commonplace and will not be prosecuted, and the experiences of her acquaintances also prove this. Yet, thanks to her childhood experiences, Salander knows how to get revenge against those who hurt her. Since the guardianship now interferes with her freedom and she cannot trust anyone enough to tell them about her situation, she decides the only solution must be to take matters into her own hands. Meanwhile, Blomkvist begins a romantic affair with Cecilia on Cecilia’s conditions that their relationship not extend much beyond the sexual. During one of their conversations, Cecilia notes that Harriet liked to keep up appearances but that she changed after her father’s drowning. Cecilia also indicates that Harriet and Martin suffered immensely at Gottfried’s hands.
Salander devotes her time to researching Bjurman, but cannot find any particularly incriminating information. Frustrated, she decides to kill him instead and sets about researching how to murder him in such a way that she will not be linked to the crime. When Armansky calls her about jobs, she ignores him and finally, after much debate, decides to kill Bjurman with poison. However, she realizes almost immediately that killing him will not end her guardianship and could possibly place her in a worse situation. Instead, she settles on another plan. She sets up another meeting with Bjurman, who demands to see her at his home. When she arrives, she sets down her bag and prepares to initiate her plan, but to her shock Bjurman physically attacks her and handcuffs her to the bed before raping her. After the ordeal, he releases her, gives her a check, and again reminds her that he will teach her how to behave.
The news that the Vangers intend to back Millennium throws the journalism world into frenzy. Blomkvist is upset about the arrangement because he feels Vanger now has control over him. Right after the announcement, he leaves to begin his prison sentence. Salander, meanwhile, researches sadism and comes to believe that Bjurman perceives her as a victim. Afterwards, she goes to get a slim band tattooed around her ankle as a reminder and sets up another meeting with Bjurman. This time, she stuns him before he can attack her and handcuffs him to the bed. When he wakes up, Salander tortures him and reveals that she recorded his rape of her. She threatens that, if he does not allow her sole independent access to her bank account and refrain from contacting her, she will mail copies of the recording to every newsroom in Stockholm. She also commands him to do everything he can to ensure she is declared competent and says she will ruin him if she ever catches him with a woman, whether the woman wants to be there or not. After issuing the commands, Salander tattoos his chest and stomach with the words “I AM A SADISTIC PIG, A PERVERT, AND A RAPIST.”
In these chapters, tattoos act as a symbol of power, nonconformity, and control over the body. Throughout the text, Salander’s tattoos serve as a mark of her unwillingness to conform to social norms. Her decision in Chapter 14 to get another tattoo after the rape is her way of reasserting control over her body. In this way, Salander reclaims the body that Bjurman had claimed control over. Therefore, Salander’s literal tattooing of Bjurman at the chapter’s end emphasizes her control over his body and his life, and also serves as a visible reminder that she now has the upper hand in power dynamic between them. Additionally, the disparaging tattoo purposefully marks him as a social outcast and a danger, and it ensures that, in the future, he will no longer be able to participate in certain social interactions.
One of the most important passages in this section occurs in Chapter 12, when Salander voices the prevailing theme of the novel: that Swedish society both permits and accepts the abuse of women. In particular, her view of sexual assault as a natural and accepted consequence of being a woman demonstrates both the frequency of, and the lack of punishment for, such crimes. The knowledge that a woman’s word does not carry much weight, as well as the nonresponse of the police to sexual assault crimes, makes it nearly impossible in Salander’s view for a woman to receive justice. Most significantly, Salander views Bjurman’s crimes against her as symbolic of the abuses suffered daily by many other women, and her decision to take matters into her own hands indicates that, at least within the novel, the only solution to abuse against women is for women to get justice themselves.
Though Salander explicitly empowers herself in this episode, Cecilia more subtly resists oppression in the way she approaches and dictates the circumstances of her relationship with Blomkvist. In particular, Cecilia’s focus on the erotic and her desire for her own sexual self-satisfaction without the trappings of a relationship reveal her to be a strong-willed woman with a focus on her pleasure and her wishes. The ground rules that she sets for her relationship with Blomkvist, while not as violent or constrictive as the rules Salander sets for Bjurman, nevertheless demand that Blomkvist subvert his own needs and desires in order to meet hers. Cecilia’s memories of her verbally abusive father, as well as her violent husband, establish a background that explains her current desire for independence. Unfortunately, Cecilia’s deepening feelings for Blomkvist and her obvious affection or him, as well as Blomkvist’s established inability to commit to a traditional relationship structure, promises future complexities and raises the emotional stakes of the novel.
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