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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1. Compare and contrast Lisbeth Salander and Erika Berger. In what ways do these two women wield power? How do their difficulties differ throughout the text?

Berger and Salander are both strong, independent women, but they exercise their independence in different ways. In Salander’s case, this independence manifests itself in her desire to be free of her guardianship and her pursuit of economic control. Though Salander’s guardianship exists to ensure she is always under someone’s authority, she rejects that subordinate position. When Nils Bjurman tries to force her to submit to him, she strikes out physically to maintain control over her life and her body. Additionally, her decision to drain money from Wennerström’s accounts, besides serving to punish Wennerström, solidifies her financial freedom. Though Berger doesn’t have to deal with same problems at Salander, she too exerts her influence and her will both in the journalistic world and in her personal life. She runs a tight ship at Millennium and would rather face her challenges than give up on the magazine she runs, and her frequent strong-willed disagreements with Blomkvist prove her willingness to assert herself and her own opinions. Her sexual affairs additionally demonstrate that she doesn’t allow social norms to constrain her, but rather lives her life as she chooses.

The two differ most significantly in social status and in the conflicts they face throughout the text. Berger enjoys a significant amount of privilege and social influence as Millennium’s editor. The difficulties she confronts in the story occur mostly in the journalistic world, and crop up as backbiting or nasty personal attacks and accusations. In many ways, Berger’s social status protects her from the violent and often physical conflicts Salander endures. Salander herself realizes that her lack of economic power, her gender, and her youth make her vulnerable. Since she does not have Berger’s financial power or social status, she finds herself forced to resolve matters often with violence and often with little outside help. Ultimately, though the two women share a fiercely independent streak and neither backs away from conflict, they are extremely different people.

2. Discuss Blomkvist’s ethics throughout the novel. What are his ideas about right and wrong, and how do they evolve?

At the beginning of the novel, Blomkvist exhibits a clearly defined sense of right and wrong, especially in regards to journalism. He’s careful to publish only what he believes to be true, and as a result, his conviction for libel devastates him. As Salander notes early on, Blomkvist values his credibility and his ethics because he views journalists as necessary checks on corruption. Though Salander dismisses this view as naïve, Blomkvist’s entire motivation for accepting Henrik’s job offer rests in his desire to restore his credibility. At the end of the novel, Blomkvist claims to retain this view, and in a television interview restates his belief that Wennerström’s downfall indicates a need in Sweden for ethical journalists who will examine the economy for evidence of corruption at every turn. Naturally, Blomkvist believes himself to be a part of this revolution, and Millennium itself exists to fulfill this philosophy.

As the story progresses, however, Blomkvist both becomes complicit in and commits several deceptive acts that seem, at first glance, to contradict his idealistic ethical stance. At first, this shift in his ethics manifests itself as complacency when, at Salander’s request, he agrees to refrain from informing the police about Martin’s dungeon and his various crimes. As a result, despite profound discomfort with the notion, he participates in the cover-up that Frode orchestrates. Later, Blomkvist uses arguably unethical tactics himself in order to take down Wennerström. Most notably, he makes use of the material Salander hacked from Wennerström’s hard drive and requests that she hack into Dahlmann’s computer as well. Afterwards, with Berger, he agrees to attribute the hacked documentation to an anonymous source rather than reveal his illicit methods. Though Blomkvist considers the deceptive methods necessary to bring down Wennerström, his willingness to use such tactics suggests a shift in his sense of ethics.

3. What role does technology play in the novel?

In The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, technology serves two key purposes: it empowers the powerless, and it serves as a useful tool to combat corruption. For example, Salander, victimized by Nils Bjurman and constrained by a legal guardianship, uses technology to protect herself and to gather information about those in power. Though she cannot physically dominate anyone, which is the reason Bjurman is able to rape her, her hacking skills and computer knowledge give her a measure of power, and her use of security technology ultimately permits her to blackmail Bjurman with the recording of her brutal rape. As a result, without her computer Salander feels powerless, and when hers breaks we see she will go to almost any length to replace it. Technology also offers Salander and Blomkvist a measure of protection against Martin. Surveillance equipment lends Salander the ability to rescue Blomkvist when Martin captures him in the dungeon. Technology levels the playing field for both of the protagonists and allows them to pursue justice and truth.

Additionally, technology allows Blomkvist and Salander to uncover corruption. Blomkvist and Salander discover Dahlmann is the Millennium mole when they hack into his computer, and Salander’s recovery of Wennerström’s hard drive reveals the depth of his financial misdeeds. Even Salander’s job with Milton Security’s private investigation division utilizes technology as a mean of seeking out corruption, dishonesty, and hidden truths. One of the central truths of the novel seems to be that, thanks to technology, very little can truly remain hidden for long. In the digital age information is available to people of various social classes and genders, and can be used accordingly against systematic oppression. Thus, in the novel, technology functions as a useful, even necessary tool for those rendered defenseless in a corrupt society.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Discuss the role of marriage in the novel. What purpose does marriage serve in the text, and how is it viewed by the characters?

2. Salander often articulates her belief that others should be held accountable for their actions, regardless of their past experiences or motivations. In what ways does the novel demonstrate that her belief is accurate?

3. What attitude does the novel take towards violence against women?

4. In what ways might this be a feminist novel?

5. What role does Salander’s social status play in her narrative? In what ways does her lack of social influence affect the way others treat her?

6. Compare and contrast Martin Vanger with Nils Bjurman. How do these men differ in their treatment of women and their motivations for such treatment?

7. Discuss Blomkvist’s family life in the novel. How do his responses to his family, or lack of them, demonstrate aspects of his character?

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