Posted by: gdevi | April 19, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Study Guide

Dr. G. Devi

English 220

Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Study Guide

I am so glad you enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; it is a beautifully orchestrated murder mystery-family saga-social novel. Here are a couple of links I would like you to check out sometime; this one gives you a tour of the places in Sweden mentioned in the novel (apparently not any more. Sorry!).  Larsson literally died at his desk at Searchlight; here is an obituary written by his colleagues at Searchlight. Tragic loss of a talented writer.

Keep these questions in your mind as you work through the novel:

  1. Murder mysteries as a genre employ certain narrative devices such as imbuing realistic scene settings with  hyper significance– this is what is often meant when you refer to a “scene” as a “crime scene.” All objects in a crime scene have multiple meanings, but they can be decoded and cataloged. In conventional murder  mysteries and police procedurals, careful observation of the realistic setting becomes the key to unlocking the unsolved mystery.  (This is also what distinguishes a murder mystery/police procedural from thrillers/suspenses. In thrillers/suspenses the fictional world need not be an empirically verifiable, stable world.) In police procedurals/ murder mysteries the world is a rational, empirically working place. In some ways, this is the hope given to us readers by murder mysteries. This is why we read them. Horrendous crimes will be solved if we pay close enough attention to the details. How do Mikael and Lisbeth, in their own ways, employ this conventional device of careful observation, documentation and inference? Study their approach to people, things and places. What questions come to their mind? How do  they ask them? How do they interpret the answers?
  2. The original Swedish title of this novel was Men Who Hate Women. You will notice that the epigraph to each section of the novel has a sex crime statistic from Sweden. What is the thematic link between these sex crime statistics and the plot of the novel?  How do the sex crime statistics throw light on the evolving themes of the novel?
  3. Is it significant, thematically speaking, that the Vangar family has a shady Nazi past? If yes, explain why and how. What is the significance of the Leviticus passages and the murdered women?
  4. All murder mysteries have stock character types called “red herrings.” Can you spot the red herring characters in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?
  5. Why can’t characters such as Lisbeth Salander never rely on justice being served through the court system? Why can’t she trust the police?
  6. Discuss the role of the women characters in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
  7. What does Mikael discover about the Vangars during the course of his investigation? What does he discover about Harriet?
  8. Discuss the relationship between parents and children in this novel.
  9. On p. 156, the elderly patriarch Henrik Vangar tells Mikael: “I’ve had many enemies over the years. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s never engage in a fight you’re sure to lose. On the other hand, never let anyone who has insulted you get away with it. Bide your time and strike back when you’re in a position of strength–even if you no longer need to strike back.” Henrik, Mikael, Lisbeth — which of these characters make use of this strategy to the fullest in the novel?
  10. Study p. 471-472 and follow the discussions between Mikael and Lisbeth about the killer. What does this discussion reveal about the various theories regarding violent crimes and criminals? Do you think these theories are gender-oriented? For instance, Hollywood glamorizes the criminal quite a bit, particularly violent criminals who hurt women–starting from Psycho to American Psycho and the Silence of the Lambs–we don’t really hear anything about the women these men have disposed off; but Hollywood and media in general are fascinated with the psychology of the criminal. There is a very interesting movie that came out in 1999 called 8mm in which when the masked killer is finally unmasked the detective is shocked to discover that he is an ordinary guy who murders for thrill and money; the criminal laughs at the detective and says, “Did you think that I was some sort of special person? No I am not. I am just someone who likes to kill women.”  There is another movie Minus Man which also tries to debunk the psycho-babble about killers; Lisbeth Salander simply calls them “garden variety bastards who hate women.” What is Larsson telling us about our society’s fascination with criminals? Why aren’t we at all concerned about the women killed? What is this novel’s position regarding how society views violent crimes against women?
  11. Were you at all surprised at the ending of the novel? Were you disappointed that Mikael does not publish his findings about the Vangar family?
  12. Do you think Lisbeth is justified in her anger against Harriet for her silence?
  13. How do the various themes of journalistic ethics, crimes against women and corporate crime thread together in this story?

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