Study Guide

The Girl Who Played With Fire Violence

By Stieg Larsson


She saw him drenched with gasoline. She could actually feel the box of matches in her hand. (Prologue.31)

Might as well kick off this theme with Salander's thirteenth birthday fantasy of burning up her psychiatrist Peter Teleborian. We aren't advocating any kind of violence, but we can enjoy her fantasy can't we? It's hard not to when we know what he's doing to her.

He stopped fantasizing about her death and started planning for it. (2.43)

Now you're in Nils Bjurman's head. Pretty scary isn't it? He makes a habit of underestimating Salander, and she too makes a habit of underestimating him. These underestimations in some ways drive the plots of the first two novels in the saga.

He had all but asphyxiated her during the rape when he had excitedly pressed a pillow over her face. He devoutly wished he had finished the job. (2.88)

Nice, Bjurman. That really makes us want to be on your side.

The injuries were hard to interpret. The pathologist had offered the suggestion that a wooden club wrapped in cloth had been the weapon used. Why a killer would wrap a murder weapon in cloth could not be explained […]. (9.124)

This little puzzle is never explicitly revealed, but by the end of the novel, we know that the murder weapon in question is probably Ronald Niedermann's arm, and the cloth is probably his sleeve! Paolo Roberto even describes Niedermann as having a "clublike blow" (25.93).

Bublanski: "Lisbeth Salander has been in and out of psychiatric units since she was a teenager. […] She was declared incompetent. She has a documented violent tendency […]. […] And you and Armansky talk about her like she's some kind of princess." (14.178)

It's true that Salander is violent. This violence enabled her to save Blomkvist's life. We haven't seen her use violence without herself or another innocent being attacked. Still, each reader decides whether her violent acts are justified, or whether she could have solved her problems through non-violent means.

He had a state endorsed mandate to tie down disobedient little girls with leather straps. (21.37)

Salander is thinking about Peter Teleborian who pretended that Salander was violent against everybody in order to justify her restraints. Do you think Salander is right, and he actually enjoys this, or is something else going on?

"This time she interrupted the beating. She went into the kitchen and got a knife and stabbed Zalachenko in the shoulder. She stabbed him five times before he managed to take the knife from her and punch her in the face." (28.115)

Stabbing Zala is not a feat most twelve-year-olds would attempt, or be able to accomplish if they did. Salander has been listening to her mother get beaten for years now, and has had plenty of time to imagine such scenarios. But, this also suggests that there's something inside her that understands violence and how to use it. Nature? Nurture? Both? You decide.

Palmgren to Blomkvist: "She came home just as he was leaving the apartment. He didn't say a word. He just laughed at her. Lisbeth went in and found her mother unconscious on the kitchen floor." (28.128)

This moment drives Salander to the climax of what she calls All The Evil, where she sets Zala on fire inside a car, trying to kill him so he can't kill her mother. He survives, of course, but he doesn't mess with Agneta again either.

Agneta Sofia Salander was unconscious. She had brain damage. The first in a series of small cerebral hemorrhages that had been triggered by the beating. She would never recover. (28.139)

This is Salander thinking about the events Palmgren is telling Blomkvist about, at very nearly the same time. This keeps up the idea that Salander and Blomkvist are living parallel lives, while making sure we don't miss how bad Zala is.

The bullet caused immediate massive trauma. Her last sensation was a glowing red shock that turned into a white light. (31.158)

The bullet comes from Zala. Like her mother before her, Salander is very nearly destroyed by the man.

At the same moment that Zalachenko turned on the light switch, the blade of the axe struck him across the right side of his face, smashing his cheekbone and penetrating into his forehead. (32.87)

So now mother, daughter, and father all have severe head injuries. There something grimly poetic about this, we dare say.