Study Guide

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest Themes

By Stieg Larsson

  • Friendship

    Friendship is the backbone of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, maybe the backbone of the whole Millennium trilogy. We could look at the saga as Lisbeth Salander's journey from finding few friends in the world to finding many. In the first two novels, Salander seems to have more enemies than friends. She feel like it's her against the world. In this novel, the friends totally outweigh the enemies. Since she's stuck in a hospital and in jail, she must rely on the people who care for her in order to win her freedom. Now, Salander just has to figure out what to do with all these supporters and learn how to be a friend in return.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. According to this novel, is love possible without friendship? Friendship without love? Does it show any differences between love and friendship?
    2. Are Salander and her lawyer Annika Giannini friends?
    3. Will Monica Figuerola, Blomkvist's new flame, become friends with Erika Berger and/or Salander?
    4. Why do you think that Salander reaches out to Berger to help with the stalker situation? What does it say about Salander?
    5. Why does Salander head to Gibraltar after being released from jail?
    6. What has changed about Salander such that she's able to welcome Blomkvist back into her life at the end of the novel?
  • Ethics and Morality

    Readers have the ultimate say on what's right and what's wrong in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Each character has a distinct, and sometimes bizarre, moral code as a guide, for good or bad. Most characters must make tough ethical decisions, sometimes being asked to choose between doing what they think is right and doing what is legal. In most cases, we find people determined to do what they think is right, though we don't always agree with them. We can't help but be in favor of Salander's supporters, though they bend the law for "good." But we also see the Section, a rogue group within the Swedish Secret Police, convinced that their illegal cover-ups and murders are for the greater good.

    Questions About Ethics and Morality

    1. Does Salander's moral code change over the course of the three books? Does Blomkvist's?
    2. Do you think that the guys in the Section do anything for the good of the Swedish people?
    3. Which characters are asked to make a choice between doing what they think is right and doing what is legal? How do they negotiate these ethical dilemmas?
    4. Could Salander have gained her freedom if she never broke the law (with her hacking, etc.)?
    5. How would you sum up Erika Berger's approach to journalistic ethics? Do you agree with it.
    6. Armansky's moral code is frequently in conflict with Salander's. Where do they differ? Are their differences resolved in this novel, or not?
    7. Why are people like Officer Modig and Dr. Jonasson willing to break the law and risk their careers to help Salander?
  • Justice and Judgment

    In The Girl Who Played With Fire, Salander is judged by the media and much of the Stockholm police force as a murderous psychopath who deserves to be locked away for life, and in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest Salander arrested and put on trial. In the first two novels of the trilogy, Salander was dead-set against using the official justice system, as it had always mistreated her in the past. She evaded arrest and decided to seek revenge (outside of the law) against those who mistreated her. Here, we continue to see Salander use her avenger tactics. But, we also see Salander do things we'd never expect. Like get a lawyer and talk to cops. Blomkvist convinces Salander to take a risk and try using the law and the court system, and it ends up working out. Though that doesn't mean that Salander has transformed into a law-abiding citizen. Rather, it seems that the law is now simply another tool in Salander's avenger toolbox.

    Questions About Justice and Judgment

    1. What would Salander have done if she didn't get justice through the courts? Why does she decide to use the legal justice system?
    2. What is the role of technology in furthering justice? What about the role of investigative journalism?
    3. Niedermann is a vicious killer, but also a victim of his father, Alexander Zalachenko. Why does Salander's victimization push her to help others and Niedermann's to hurt others? What would justice for Niedermann look like?
    4. Do you think Salander does the right thing by letting the legal justice system take care of Teleborian and Niedermann?
    5. Based on the Millennium trilogy, how do you think Larsson views the Swedish legal system? How does it compare to the legal system in your country?
  • Gender

    Stieg Larsson's trilogy is very focused on problems women face, especially violence and social inequality. Lisbeth Salander is probably the character that prompts the most discussion of gender. One film reviewer argues that "Salander isn't a 'violent femme'; she's not femme at all" (source). Hmm. Well, this is an interesting interpretation, but it might not consider how important Salander's identity as a woman is to her. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is most interested in challenging the idea that gender should determine the roles men and women play in society, and the idea that men and women are suited for different kinds of work. As we talk about in "What's Up With the Epigraph?", the novel focuses on the idea that women and men are equally suited to be warriors, doctors, lawyers, mathematicians, and journalists, to name a few.

    Questions About Gender

    1. Do you think that Stieg Larsson would have explored men's issues more in future novels?
    2. Larsson seems to make a case that women need to be recognized as equally suited for battle as men, and that women warriors have been left out of the history book. Do you agree? Why, or why not?
    3. Judging from their reactions to Erika Berger, how does the boys' club at SMP feel about women? Do you think Berger does anything that could make them change their thinking?
    4. Which women in the novel face some kind of discrimination? How do they deal with it?
    5. Do you agree with the film reviewer that "Salander isn't a 'violent femme'; she's not femme at all" (source)?
  • Violence

    The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest has its share of gruesome violence, including depictions of rape, child molestation, and horror chambers where women are held against their wills. During Salander's trial, Mikael Blomkvist tells his sister, Annika Giannini (Salander's lawyer) "[…] this story isn't primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it's about violence against women and the men who enable it" (28.60). It's also about the men like Blomkvist, Armansky, Edklinth, Jonasson, and Bublanski, who have good relationships with women. As noted in "What's Up With the Epigraph?", the novel seems to argue that violence against women can be counteracted if men and women train equally in the arts of self defense and self protection.

    Questions About Violence

    1. What do you think about Salander nailing Niedermann's feet to the floor? Would she have still done it if he could feel pain? Did she have any other options?
    2. Why doesn't Salander kill Niedermann?
    3. Do you think the publication of Salander's story will eventually make Sweden safer for children?
    4. Do you think that some of the violent scenes in the novel are meant to parody Hollywood movies? Why or why not?
    5. Should men and women train equally in self defense and weaponry? What about children?
  • Lies and Deceit

    As we discuss in the related theme of "Versions of Reality," the Section and Teleborian build an elaborate castle of lies and deceit in order to silence and discredit Salander. To keep their castle standing, they have to keep adding more lies and creating more deceptions. For example, they don't just want to murder Blomkvist, but also to make him look like a drug dealer. This gets pretty outrageous and keeps the novel fun. There's constant Spy vs Spy action as the Security Police, Blomkvist, and Milton Security spy on the Section as the Section spies on Blomkvist, and as Salander and the Hacker Republic spy on everybody else. It's interesting that some members of Team Salander use what could be considered lies and deceit to bring the truth to light.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. Is Salander being deceptive when she snoops in people's computers? Does she need to do it to continue her role as avenger, or is she just a nosy snoop?
    2. Did Teleborian deceive himself about Salander? Does he know that he's lying to the public when he claims that she is mentally ill and dangerous, or does he believe his own lies?
    3. Can lies and deceit be used for good? Are there times when this is necessary, or is honesty always the way to go?
    4. The Section goes to great lengths to cover government secrets. They certainly go way too far, but what level of cover-up (if any) do you think is acceptable?
  • Language and Communication

    Overall, this theme is concerned with language and communication as evidence, as news, and as history. It's concerned with how people, government agents, the media, and professionals like doctors and lawyers interact with each other. In other words, it's serious. In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, we also see our favorite heroine, Salander, find her voice. For the first time she decides to talk to the authorities and share her life story. She writes her own autobiography, talks to her lawyer, and speaks at her trial. And speaking out does a world of good: Salander gains her freedom and the bad guys are arrested.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. Why does Salander decide to make her story public knowledge?
    2. What are some of the positive and negative uses of silence in the novel?
    3. What are some of the things Salander leaves out of her autobiography, and why does she omit them?
    4. What are some of Blomkvist's techniques? How does he convince so many people to help him help Salander?
    5. Would you like to read Blomkvist's books? Do you think he's a good reporter?
  • Technology and Modernization

    In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, we watch Salander surpass her hacker-teacher, Plague, and get into all sorts of technological mischief, all in the name of truth and justice. Internet and computer technologies are critical to uncovering Teleborian's crimes, and also to Salander winning back her freedom. Without her nifty Palm Tungsten T3, she'd be almost completely isolated and helpless against her enemies. The rest of Team Salander, from the Constitutional Protection Unit to Milton Security to the Hacker Republic, all use the latest technology, including hidden cameras and other security equipment on their quest to prove Salander's innocence. Overall, the good guys seem to be well-armed with modern technology, while the bad guys, not so much.

    Questions About Technology and Modernization

    1. Do you think the hacking schemes described in the novel sound realistic?
    2. Can you find examples of computer technology being used for bad purposes?
    3. What kinds of technology do the "bad guys" use? Are they technologically behind Salander and her allies?
    4. How is computer technology important to the work being done at the Constitutional Protection Unit?
    5. How are print and broadcast technologies important to the novel?
    6. What's up with Blomkvist printing his book on Salander instead of putting it online? Why, in such a high-tech book, use this old-fashioned technology? Especially since the Section could potentially disrupt the printing process?
  • Versions of Reality

    We see The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest from different characters' points of view. These characters are basically divided into two categories: those motivated to uncover the truth and those motivated to cover it. A good amount of this novel is about bringing the truth to light. How the media influences perceptions of reality, and allows for manipulation of reality, are also hot issues related to this theme. Similarly, the novel explores how the various technologies available – from computer and Internet technology, to printing presses, to weapons – influence perceptions of reality.

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. Does Salander's basic outlook change in this novel, or does she stay pretty much the same?
    2. How does it make you feel to read the passages narrated from Niedermann's perspective? What do you think causes his hallucinations?
    3. In the courtroom scene, we see inside Teleborian's head. Does his point of view provide us with any new information? If you were his psychiatrist, how would you diagnose him?
    4. Is it important that the public read the truth of Salander's story? What implications might the revelation of this truth have for other victims? What implications might it have for patients at St. Stefan's psychiatric clinic? For Swedish democracy?
    5. How might you compare/contrast Blomkvist's point of view with Dragan Armansky's?
    6. How is technology used to manipulate reality? How is it used to uncover the truth?