What is Larsson’s Message?

            When first being introduced to Lisbeth Salander in Larsson’s novel, we learn that by her teens, her life has been a whirlwind of foster homes, mental hospitals and loss of control over her own finances. At the beginning of the novel, we can assume that there as been much hurt in her life, but we later learn that men have abused her for all of the years of her life. “By then her casebook was filled with terms such as introverted, socially inhibited, lacking empathy, ego fixated, psychopathic and asocial behavior, difficulty in cooperating and incapable of assimilating learning.” (Larsson, 160). Right there, the readers know that Lisbeth Salander is seriously disturbed and has lost most, if not all, of her mental stability. That quote alone tells the audience that Salander is not even mentally capable of coming up with logical solutions against the world’s battle with anti-feminism. While it is extremely strong and possibly empowering for Salander to seek revenge on her guardian who asked for sexual favors in return for giving Lisbeth more freedom with her finances, she made one small mistake before the empowering part showed up. Salander did, in fact, perform a sexual favor to receive some financial freedom, but in her head, the favor was not very extreme. Salander was not enraged until her guardian took the sex antics to a whole new level of inappropriateness. With all of this said, the reader cannot decide that Lisbeth Salander is a model pro-feminism activist if she let her guardian use her to certain extents. In her troubled mind, parts of the situation were acceptable until he crossed a line. The problem with that is:  the original situation should not have been acceptable at all. There should have been absolutely no circumstance where it was okay to perform any sexual act in return for financial freedom, even if it was so-called “small.”

            Author Iris M. Young created a series of ideas that are considered to be the “Fives Faces of Oppression.” These faces are exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence. Powerlessness is clearly an inevitable factor in anti-feminism. Young says, “An adequate conception of oppression cannot ignore the experience of social division reflected in the colloquial distinction between the ‘middle class’ and the ‘working class,’ a division structured by the social division of labor between professionals and nonprofessionals.” (Young, 56). Young’s concept can easily be applied to women vs. men when it comes to the work force. Many men still think that women should be “in the kitchen” while men go to work. The fact of the matter is that the world is changing drastically and Sweden is still behind with some of the modern concepts. Lisbeth Salander’s success in the work force is surely looked down upon by men who wish they had the natural intelligence and talent that Salander owns. Salander’s success in the work force is one of Larsson’s ways of telling the audience that men are still not comfortable with women taking positions of power in the working world. That point, however, is used to show the world that women can do it. That concept is one of the ways that Larsson’s novel is clearly one to promote women’s rights by using anti-feminist concepts to capture the root of the problem.

            When taking a closer look at the cultural factors involved with this novel, it is clear that Larsson is trying to make a point about Swedish culture. Young discusses cultural imperialism as a face of oppression and says, “ These kinds of oppression are matter of concrete power in relation to others—of who benefits from whom, and who is dispensable.” (Young, 58). After reading more about Sweden’s culture, it tends to seem “picture perfect” from the outside and from the government’s standpoint, but Larsson sought out to reveal the country for what it really is. Journal, Scandinavian Studies, says “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo reflects, implicitly and explicitly, gaps between rhetoric and practice in Swedish policy and public discourse about complex relations between welfare state retrenchment, neoliberal corporate and economic practices, and politicized gender construction. The novel, in fact, endorses a pragmatic acceptance of a neoliberal world order that is delocalized, dehumanized, and misogynistic.” (Alm & Stenport, 157). The point is, Swedish culture is seriously lacking in many concepts that are blossoming in many other countries. While the government may find that it works to simply advertise themselves as a fair and just system, shame on them for not realizing that one of their citizens may speak up and broadcast their insufficiency. Hopefully Larsson’s novel has sent a clear message to the country and that this is a step toward making Sweden a better place to live, especially for women.

            Now, to discuss the films and apply the visual aids to the anti or pro feminist concepts, it is important to distinguish the minor differences in the films. Besides the subtitles in the Swedish version, there really is not much different besides the actual appearance of the characters. Film critic Anne Ryan said in her review of the movie, “For those who fell in love with Lisbeth in print [Noomi Rapace] does not disappoint.” While it is true, Rapace did an exquisite job, her overall look did not fit the image that the book described when being compared to the American film version. Based on looks, Rapace had too pretty of a face, making her seem less creepy than actress Rooney Mara. Blogger, Mark Bell, wrote an essay that is quite mentally stimulating when comparing the book and two movies to one another. Obviously, the most interesting parts were his comments on Lisbeth Salander’s character. Bell assessed the Swedish film adaptation in his online comparison by saying, “She plays the character’s strength a little closer to the surface, though; I would never characterize or see her as ‘weak,’ which is a mistake so many make in the books.” Bell’s analysis described Rapace’s version of the character perfectly, as she never seemed as if she were too weak or fragile to survive in any situation.

Rooney Mara’s character, on the other hand, portrayed the book’s description of Salander much better. One example of Mara’s similarity to Larsson’s original character is her blank stare and fragile look. The combination of those two components makes for a girl that could come off mentally challenged if one did not already know how intelligent she was. Mara’s ability to capture the concept of being judged as unwise because of her choice to keep quiet in most situations is one fine example of how men can judge a woman without knowing much about her. It is a common problem that men completely overlook the capabilities of women. Salander (played by Mara) took that concept and ran with it by embracing the fact that men most likely think she is incompetent and then turning around and surprising them with her strength and wit.

At the end of the day, when it comes down to deciphering whether this novel is pro or anti feminism, the initial answer should be easy. It is quite obvious that the book is attempting to show its readers the ongoing battles of Swedish (and other culture’s) citizens and hopefully raise awareness to help the cause. After researching so much of the material, it has become clear that Lisbeth Salander is not the average women’s rights activist. On the opposing end, Lisbeth is a victim and is hardly even mentally aware of her decisions and actions against men. She is quite genius at the job she has been given, but that does not mean that she is an all-around genius in life.  A whole other investigation could arrive from the discussion of what made Lisbeth Salander so great at what she does. Is it raw talent? Or is it also a response to the pain and suffering she has endured over the years? Lisbeth is a broken soul who tries to find her way to justice by violently hurting anyone who crosses her path in a negative way. While many find her to be a hero, it would make sense if she were to end up in a mental institution. All of Lisbeth’s actions come from a place of psychological damage, rendering her as certifiably insane. Yes, in a twisted way, she is standing up for women by seeking revenge upon the men that have harmed her, but her psychotic actions are a response from the mental and physical abuse she has endured from men through her entire life. That does not seem like a good candidate to be the spokeswoman for pro-feminism. Truthfully, she lost the battle to men by succumbing to their abuse and letting it take a permanent toll on her mind.

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