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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson

Chapters 24–26

Chapters 21-23

Chapters 27–Epilogue

Summary: Chapter 24

Martin admits to Blomkvist that both he and his father bear responsibility for the serial murders. When Blomkvist blames Martin for Harriet’s death, Martin quickly becomes enraged and demands to know where Harriet is. Shocked, Blomkvist realizes that Martin did not kill his sister. Indeed, Martin seems interested in any information Blomkvist might be able to offer about Harriet’s whereabouts, and he reveals Harriet refusal to participate in the killing. Martin offhandedly mentions the sexual abuse his father subjected him to during his childhood as he attempts to strangle Blomkvist. Meanwhile, Salander finally makes the connection between the serial killings and Martin. After she watches the surveillance footage and discovers Blomkvist’s whereabouts, she bursts into Martin’s cottage and attacks Martin with a golf club. Wounded, Martin flees, and Salander cuts Blomkvist free before she gives chase. Panicked, Martin speeds until he crashes into a truck and dies. Salander returns to the cabin to inform Blomkvist of Martin’s death, but refuses to go to the police about the matter.

Summary: Chapter 25

As Blomkvist sleeps, Salander returns to Martin’s dungeon to investigate. In the photographs, she finds pictures of a semi-nude young girl. Disturbed, she destroys the evidence and returns to the cabin. The next morning, Salander explains the event to Frode. At Salander’s urging, Frode decides to cover up the murders, and a reluctant Blomkvist finally agrees. Afterwards, Salander and Blomkvist hypothesize that the young girl in Martin’s photos might be Harriet and argue over the extent of Martin’s responsibility for his crimes. Together, Salander and Blomkvist return to Blomkvist’s apartment in Stockholm. From there they depart to London, where they meet up with two of Salander’s acquaintances, Trinity and Bob the Dog, to receive some help tapping a phone line. When Blomkvist questions Anita about Harriet’s disappearance and receives a cold reception, Salander’s acquaintances tap the call Anita makes afterwards and trace the number to a location in Australia. Afterward, Salander receives the news that her mother has died and stays in Sweden as Blomkvist departs for Australia.

Summary: Chapter 26

At the airport, Blomkvist receives an envelope that contains the name and address of a farm run by a widow named Anita Cochran. In Australia, Blomkvist visits the farm and meets Jeff, the studs manager, who introduces him to the “boss”: Harriet Vanger, known to others as Anita Cochran. Harriet explains that she requested Anita’s help to escape from Hedeby in 1966 and that Anita smuggled her out so that she could leave the country. After a period of time in Italy, she fell in love with an Australian man and moved back with him. He died a few years ago, but she still runs their sheep ranch. Harriet confirms Blomkvist’s suspicion that Martin and Gottfried molested her, and tells him that in 1965 Gottfried admitted the scope of his crimes and drunkenly tried to kill her. In fear for her life, she fled and then pushed him into the water with an oar and held him under until he drowned. Martin witnessed the murder and raped her afterward, but eventually he left Hedeby. When he returned in 1966, however, she decided to flee at last.

Analysis

In these chapters, which include the climax of the novel’s action, Martin, Salander, and Harriet exemplify the ways in which one can perpetuate a cycle of violence or bring it to an end. Martin, who inherited his father’s pedigree as a killer and a rapist, perpetuates the cycle of violence. He repeats and mimics the abuse forced on him and taught to him throughout his childhood. Notably, Salander and Harriet both use violence to stop the cycle. Salander’s confrontation with Martin mirrors her confrontation with Bjurman earlier in the novel. She attacks Martin without remorse and in a deliberate, calculated attempt to prevent violence to Blomkvist and to protect her own safety. Furthermore, Harriet’s successful attempt to drown her father many years ago shares the same purpose: to bring a stop to the violence and to protect herself. For both Salander and Harriet, violence functions as a reactive act and a necessary resort in times of trouble. For Martin, however, violence functions as a willful act meant to give pleasure.

In the aftermath of the confrontation, Salander and Blomkvist reveal their differing worldviews and, in doing so, explore whether people must always be accountable for their actions. Blomkvist, shocked and disgusted by Martin’s revelations about Gottfried and his abusive, tortured childhood, seems inclined to rationalize Martin’s behaviors in light of his father’s cruelty and sexual abuse of Martin. For Blomkvist, Martin’s tortured childhood might explain, if not justify, his grotesque actions. Salander strongly disagrees, however, expressing her belief that each individual is ultimately responsibility for his choices, regardless of past history and experience. Whatever happened to Martin in the past, she argues, he chose to torture and kill women. While Salander and Blomkvist never come to a particular conclusion about Martin’s responsibility for his crimes during the discussions, their individual views reflect the difference in their life experiences. Salander, an assertive woman who functions independently and cultivates very few relationships, believes strongly in the will of the individual, while Blomkvist, who works communally with others and has a more idealistic view of the world, believes in the influence of the collective.

Blomkvist and Salander also differ on how they think they should handle the discovery that Martin was a serial killer. Blomkvist wants to reveal the information in his book about the Vanger family, believing he owes it to the memories of the women Martin killed and their families. Salander, however, disagrees on this approach to the matter. She believes revealing the truth about Martin will not in any way help Martin’s victims or their families and will instead serve to further harm Harriet. She argues that the harm that will be caused by revealing the truth would outweigh the good it would do, and for that reason they should keep quiet and allow the Vanger family to cover it up. Blomkvist’s impulse suggests he believes telling the truth and exposing corruption are a moral goods in themselves. Salander, on the other hand, has a more practical view that focuses on how telling the truth and exposing corruption will affect the people involved.

Not least of all, this section also finally answers the mystery of what happened to Harriet Vanger, the central riddle of the novel. Harriet’s explanation of her flight from Hedeby with Anita’s help, as well as the murder of her father and her relationship with her brother, tie up the remaining loose ends in the case and permit Blomkvist the necessary information to write his story and complete his investigation. More importantly, Harriet’s contentment in her current situation demonstrates her break from the Vanger family’s history of violence, abuse, and vice. It also speaks to her resilience and strength of character. Finally, her desire to see Henrik signals the beginning of healing in the Vanger family, and the beginning of a new generation no longer plagued by the problems of the clan. Her reappearance marks a rebirth for the family and provides a note of hope in an otherwise bleak and violent family history.

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