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On his birthday, an eighty-year-old man receives an unidentifiable dried flower in the mail from an anonymous source. Disturbed despite the fact that he receives a similar gift each year, he contacts Detective Superintendent Morell to discuss the occurrence. After the phone call, he begins to weep.
The chapter opens as Mikael Blomkvist, journalist and publisher of the political magazine Millennium, steps out to address reporters after being convicted for libel and the defamation of financier Hans-Erik Wennerström. Blomkvist, who owes his reputation to an exposé of a group of bank robbers called The Bear Gang, knows that the libel conviction will destroy his career and his credibility. After a minor confrontation with a journalistic rival, he escapes to a small café for lunch and thinks about the judgment. The heavy libel fine will cause him financial trouble and, additionally, he must endure three months in prison. Though he believes he can pay the fine himself, he remains troubled by the damage to Millennium’s reputation and the thought of losing his beloved apartment. Confused, he wonders where he went wrong and debates whether the information from his source, an old school friend Robert Lindberg, might be inaccurate after all.
As Blomkvist deals with the fallout from the verdict, Dragan Armansky, the CEO of Milton Security, reflects on his subordinate, Lisbeth Salander. Though Milton Security provides high-end security for various clients, the company also operates a small private-investigation division. Salander, originally hired to do menial temp work, soon begins to work on cases, and she continually defies Armansky’s expectations, as well as his orders. Salander looks unusual, with clothes, piercings, and tattoos that seem out of place at the conservative security firm. Yet she proves her worth as the best researcher among his employees. Still, Armansky frequently finds himself bewildered by her coldness, rebelliousness, and her lack of emotional involvement with others. Nevertheless, he permits Salander to work for him as a freelancer in the private-investigation division. She performs research on the firm’s behalf for clients who request it, and on this particular day, Armansky reluctantly agrees to let one of these clients meet with Salander about her research.
In the meeting, the lawyer Dirch Frode questions Salander about a report he commissioned from her. The report in question concerns Mikael Blomkvist, and Salander offers a full summation of her research about Blomkvist’s love life, his failed marriage, and the properties he owns. To Armansky’s relief, Frode seems impressed by her acumen in spite of her confrontational manner and her unusual clothing. After the question-and-answer session, Salander makes an assessment of Blomkvist’s character and notes that he seems like an honest, scrupulous individual who would not readily publish false material. In a rare occurrence that surprises Armansky, she states her belief that Blomkvist seems to be the victim of a setup. In particular, she believes a source fed him false information or perhaps threatened his life. Startled by the revelation, Frode encourages her to investigate further and find out the truth.
The opening chapters of the novel, which mainly focus on Blomkvist and his libel and defamation conviction, introduce us to Blomkvist’s character and establish the theme of corruption. Our first introduction to Blomkvist comes as he loses his trial, and we learn very quickly that Blomkvist made his reputation by exposing corruption. Despite his loss, he appears to be a very honest and principled journalist. Though Blomkvist handles matters with a calm pragmatism, his devastation over the loss of his reputation rather than the financial cost of the verdict indicates the value he places on his good name and the extent to which he trades on that reputation to do his job. Wennerström, on the other hand, seems extremely corrupt based on the account given by Blomkvist’s old friend. Consequently, there’s established a conflict between the moral and immoral, with Blomkvist and Wennerström representing the two sides.
By contrast, Lisbeth Salander’s unapologetic first appearance in the novel sets her up immediately as the novel’s most subversive and observant character, uniquely situated to analyze complex situations. Her dark clothes, piercings, and tattoos immediately indicate her control over her own body and mark her physically as a rebel, while her cold and withdrawn demeanor distance her emotionally from everyone she meets. Because of these traits, others regard her as unintelligent, but Salander manipulates the assumptions of others to her advantage. In her interactions with Armansky, particularly, Salander’s incredible intellectual knowledge and self-possession combine in a way that astonishes him and thus secures her a job that fulfills her needs perfectly. The working relationship that the two of them share does not require a change in Salander’s demeanor, but rather a shift in Armansky’s willingness to accept an unorthodox employee in his office. However, the interactions between Salander and Armansky also reveal Salander’s position as an unwilling object of erotic desire. Though Armansky feels affection for her, Salander immediately demonstrates her unwillingness to be sexualized in a way that does not suit her.
One notable passage in these opening segments comes when Salander points out to Frode the discrepancy between Blomkvist’s honest nature and the accusations of dishonesty leveled against him in the libel suit. The comment both exemplifies Salander’s shrewdness and foreshadows the conflict to come between Blomkvist and Wennerström. One of Salander’s strengths is her ability to draw inferences from small details. The strength allows her to draw conclusions about how people behave as well as gain a psychological edge over those with whom she interacts. Salander’s comment also points to Wennerström’s tremendous influence in Swedish society, as she more or less suggests he deliberately drew Blomkvist into libeling him, and it also implies that she respects Blomkvist, setting a foundation for the future bond between Blomkvist and Salander.
Finally, the opening chapters set up a distinct parallel between Blomkvist and Salander with a strong focus on their feelings of isolation and alienation within their respective communities. Though Blomkvist previously enjoyed a successful career and a small measure of fame as a reporter, his libel conviction leaves him quite separate from his colleagues. Shunned by his fellow journalists, he contemplates a future with his credibility in ruins and plans a life in which his normal social circle no longer exists. Salander is similarly isolated, albeit by choice. Because of her appearance and attitude, Salander does not fit into the corporate world in which she works, and she appears to have few, if any, close relationships. But while Blomkvist is unhappy about his isolation, Salander accepts hers willingly and seems to take comfort in her relative social anonymity.