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Millennium (Series) | Context

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Swedish Society

Modern-day Sweden is a social democracy, which means the government uses democratic procedures, such as voting, to enact socialism. Socialism rejects capitalism to ensure that Sweden's finances benefit everyone in a community, not just the rich. For example, all citizens have access to free health care and education. Unemployment rates are low, homelessness is virtually nonexistent, and Sweden is generally accepted as having the highest standard of living in the world. To fund public services that benefit everyone, citizens pay up to 55 percent in income tax. In 2014, Sweden elected the first "feminist government" in the world. This government works to ensure gender equality locally and internationally because they believe "gender equality [is] part of the solution to society's challenges."

Presence of Corruption

On the surface, Sweden often seems like utopia, but Larsson's novel serve to show a dirtier underbelly in which Swedes, like the rest of the world, long for money and power. The second and third novels in the series in particular deal with government corruption and cover-ups. Characters like Dr. Teleborian, Bjurman, and members of the Section show how government workers "bug illegally, steal money, lie their way out of trouble, commit murder and harass the innocent," just like everywhere else in the world. Though Sweden has boasted a "feminist government," women often made about 13.5 percent less than men for the same work, took about 75 percent of the nation's parental leave (despite it being to both parents), and took almost 90 percent of work leave to care for sick children or family members.

Sexual Abuse

At the same time, despite a liberal sex education program that can start as early as ages 3 and 4, charges of sexual assault and rape have risen drastically in Sweden. Once thought to be a sexual free-for-all, Sweden has been dialing back its sexual liberation, which peaked in the 1960s, amid complaints that such liberation exploits women and children. Sweden has also experienced a wave of nationalism and racism because of the country's lenient immigration policy and a long-standing problems with anti-Semitism. To set his series in modern Sweden, Stieg Larsson, himself an investigative journalist, knew he must represent the "true" underbelly of Sweden, not just the shiny exterior presented to the rest of the world.

Pippi Longstocking

Larsson claimed he modeled Lisbeth Salander after another famous Swedish antiestablishment character: Pippi Longstocking, the heroine of Astrid Lindgren's (1907–2002) children's book series. After Pippi's parents die, she spends an abysmal childhood in an orphanage, suffering terrible abuse. Financially independent—she carries around a sack of gold coins—Pippi spends the series bucking gender expectations and adult authority.

In the Millennium trilogy, Larsson regularly references the Pippi Longstocking series. Mikael Blomkvist is nicknamed Kalle, and in the Pippi books Kalle Blomkvist is a do-good child detective and Pippi's best friend. Salander's hideout is called V. Kulla, an obvious reference to Pippi's house, Villa Villekulla. Blomkvist's sister is named Annika, the name of Pippi's friend. Larsson loved the Pippi Longstocking series as a child and likely imagined Salander as a grown-up version of his favorite childhood character. "My point of departure was what Pippi Longstocking would be like as an adult," he said. "Would she be called a sociopath because she looks upon society in a different way and has no social competence?" For Swedish readers in particular, the Millennium trilogy's references to a beloved children's book series also lighten Larsson's strong political critiques.

Translation Controversy

In addition to the controversy over control of Larsson's estate, there has been some disagreement over the English-language translations of the Millennium trilogy, particularly that of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The Swedish novel, titled Män Som Hatar Kvinnor, directly translates to Men Who Hate Women; many readers claim this title best represents the heart of Larsson's narrative, with its strong critique of modern gender relations. But the English-language title the publisher opted for—The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—focuses on one individual, Lisbeth Salander, and the title offers no hint of social critique. The English-language translator, Steven T. Murray, distanced himself from the work by publishing under the pseudonym Reg Keeland.
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