Why "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" Is So Important
If you haven’t heard of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by now you have probably been living beneath a rock or ignoring pop culture all together ( I can’t really blame you for that). The best selling, Swedish crime novel has sold millions of copies world wide and will be a major motion picture in the next couple of years (no doubt Hollywood will fuck it up). The story has been translated in several different languages and is followed by two more to complete the Millennium Trilogy. I have been consumed with the series for the past three weeks and embarrassing as it may be, have not quite understood what makes these books so critically important until now.
The author, Stieg Larsson throws down amongst crime-novel heavy weights and holds his own , creating suspense and depth, stringing the reader from page to page, leaving you hanging by a thread. In combining a run-of-the-mill murder/suspense plot with the fascinating and complex investigation into a billionaire Swedish business criminal, drug ring, and a secret service-like scandal, Larsson solidifies these stories into pop-culture lore.
Yet what on the surface seems to be an entertaining but purely aesthetic read offering little to no intellectual exercise, there is a gripping examination of gender equality and discrimination in Sweden (by extent Western society). Larsson examines the state of the country’s gender relations and brings to light such issues like violence against women ( often brutal violence) , discrimination against sex workers, gender equity in the workplace, child abuse and molestation, rape, sex trafficking, and the stigmatization of female rape victims worldwide. His story of murder and mystery is thus secondary in my mind, to the real problems that still exist in one of the worlds’ most socially progressive nations, and why I feel so connected to and enthralled by the trilogy.
Despite the suspense of a criminal investigation that features a whole host of entertaining and in depth cast of players, the story of Lisbeth Sander (the girls with the dragon tattoo) is the common character to the trilogy. Her character is the main device Larsson uses to show the underbelly of Swedish social and political landscape. In the third book of the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest , we learn Salander watched for much of her childhood as her mother was brutalized by her violent father. In the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire, Salander is brutally raped on more than one occasion by her legal guardian. And in the first book, Larsson’s protagonist (Mikael) uncovers a 30 year old mystery, leading him to find the murders of women across the country and simultaneously reveals the misogyny of the police force who did little to solve the murders of women they deemed “promiscuous” or “engaged in prostitution”.
At the beginning of each section of the first novel, Larsson lines out statistics of violence against women making it no secret that he finds the continued problem an abomination. Throughout the novel, Larsson’s characters display a bias toward liberal political ideology; but make no mistake, it is clear Larsson’s intent was to reveal the failings of many of the social policies (including the police force and Swedish constitution) set up to deal with sex trafficking, rape and domestic/partner assault. In the second and third book, Larsson practically states the prostitution laws( or lack thereof) of Sweden have helped exacerbate and facilitate sex trafficking. Whether this is true has yet to be seen, but the fact that he is bringing such an issue to the forefront of reader’s mind can only be seen as a good thing.
As this series is a crime novel, naturally there is not a solid statement of the problem, concrete critique of specific governmental policies, or any solutions provided. But Larsson creates a chilling portrait about the suffering of women, and by extent society, when there is little help from law enforcement and continued gender discrimination. Larsson has done something many mainstream, pop-culture artists, writers and actors rarely have the care or courage to do: talk about the issues. The gory, horrendous and traumatic world of sex trafficking, discrimination against sex workers and disdain for victims of sexual and domestic violence insinuate enough about the times world citizens such as Stieg Larsson live in. He may not have the same opinion as I do on the subjects, but starting the conversation is a major step.