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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.