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Millennium (Series) | Motifs



Many characters in the Millennium trilogy prove that appearances can be deceiving. Lisbeth Salander, described as anorexically thin and pale, looks weak—an easy victim. Men target her for abuse, unsuspecting of the fierce beast she can unleash. With ferocious grit and quick-thinking problem-solving abilities, Salander easily overpowers men twice her size: Vanger, Nieminen, and Niedermann. To those she cannot physically best in the moment, like the rapist Bjurman or her father, Zalachenko, Salander plots her revenge.

Other characters use a "normal" appearance to hide their dark, even criminal, acts. Vanger appears wealthy and sane, yet manipulates his high-profile family to cover up years of serial killing. Dr. Peter Teleborian presents himself as a well-respected doctor in his field, but the Hacker Republic uncovers thousands of files of child pornography on his computer. Nils Bjurman is similar: he appears to be a respectable lawyer but is also a rapist. Alexander Zalachenko has the most extensive cover, as an entire government organization dedicates itself to covering up his true identity. The motif of appearances being deceiving underscores Stieg Larsson's message about the importance of a free press and journalistic integrity to root out the truth.

Social Critique

In addition to imagining a favorite childhood character grown up, many biographers claim that Larsson wrote the character of Lisbeth Salander to assuage personal guilt. Larsson, 15, witnessed a group of friends gang-rape a young woman. Because he did not intervene, he was plagued by guilt for the rest of his life. The Millennium trilogy places strong blame on government organizations that fail to protect vulnerable women. Salander is a victim of the government from the age of 12. She is institutionalized, abused, mistrusted, raped, and suspected of crimes she didn't commit. Government workers in the novels often abuse their power, from Bjurman raping a young woman in his charge to the multitude of government employees covering up human trafficking. Each of these cases is exposed by intrepid investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist, strengthening Larsson's argument about the value of a free press.

Larsson also interjects social critique through his narration. Lines such as "taking away a person's control of her own life ... is one of the greatest infringements a democracy can impose" and "it would be deplorable if special interests had the power to silence ... voices in the media" directly reflect the author's political views.

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