Literature Study GuidesMillennium SeriesThe Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest Summary

Millennium (Series) | Study Guide

Stieg Larsson

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Millennium (Series) | The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest | Summary

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About the Title

The title, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, references the "hornet's nest" of agents who will stop at nothing to attack Lisbeth Salander and protect themselves from the fallout after Salander comes after her father, Alexander Zalachenko.

Summary

Part 1: Intermezzo in a Corridor

The police arrive shortly after Mikael Blomkvist called for an ambulance—the final scene of The Girl Who Played with Fire. A helicopter airlifts Lisbeth Salander to a nearby hospital where Dr. Anders Jonasson works hard to save her, even though he believes she is a deranged murderer. Meanwhile, the arriving police arrest Blomkvist and inadvertently set Ronald Niedermann free. Niedermann kidnaps an unsuspecting woman and goes into hiding after stealing money from the criminal Svavelsjö Motorcycle Club. When Salander wakes from her brain surgery, she learns her father, Zalachenko, is recovering a few doors down from her in the same hospital. Although she can barely move or sit up, she knows she must kill him before he kills her.

The Section, a secret group within Säkerhetspolisen (Säpo)—the government organization that covered up ex-Russian spy Zalachenko's crimes for so long—decides to kill Zalachenko. The group sends in Evert Gullberg, a 70-year-old Säpo member suffering from terminal cancer, to shoot Zalachenko before killing himself.

The reader learns the Section, along with Dr. Peter Teleborian, is also responsible for having Salander institutionalized as a child because the group feared her stories about Zalachenko might endanger national security.

Part 2: Hacker Republic

The Section and Dr. Teleborian hope to enact the same plan because Salander has been rediscovered, but Dr. Jonasson thwarts Teleborian's attempts to contact Salander in the hospital. Meanwhile, Blomkvist compiles Team Salander, a group of Salander's friends and confidants who work together to clear her of the murder charges for Dag Svensson, Dr. Anders Johansson, and Nils Bjurman (see The Girl Who Played with Fire). Members of the team include Mikael Blomkvist, Dragan Armansky, Jan Bublanski, Sonja Modig, and Monika Figuerola, among others.

Blomkvist entices Dr. Jonasson, who has come to believe the news reports against Salander to be salaciously false, to help him smuggle Salander a computer so she can build her own defense. Salander begins writing her life story and reconnects with Hacker Nation, a group of elite hackers Salander views as family. They join forces against Salander's enemies to help prove her innocence. One member, named Plague, unearths folders full of violent child pornography on Dr. Peter Teleborian's computer; Salander and her lawyer, Annika Giannini (who is also Blomkvist's sister) can use this to discredit Teleborian on the stand during Salander's trial.

Part 3: Disk Crash

Erika Berger leaves Millennium magazine to join a larger publication, the newspaper SMP. She immediately faces sexism and other forms of disrespect. Shortly after she joins the team, a vicious news editor begins cyberstalking her, and even breaks into her home. Berger hires Salander's old company, Milton Security, to uncover her stalker's identity: Peter Fredriksson, a jealous, misogynistic writer for SMP. Blomkvist is also being stalked, and he uses Figuerola's tracking skills to identify members of Säpo as the men tailing him. Meanwhile, a Millennium journalist uncovers a story about child labor, implicating Berger's boss at SMP. She eventually resigns from the position, which she never enjoyed, but not before gleefully running the story on SMP's front page. She returns as editor in chief at Millennium.

Part 4: Rebooting System

As Salander's trial approaches, Blomkvist prepares to print his book about Alexander Zalachenko, Säpo, and Salander's innocence. The Section tries to steal the manuscript from the printer but fails, so it decides to have Blomkvist killed instead. A hit man attacks Blomkvist while he's out to dinner with Berger, but luckily Figuerola realized the hit was on and arrived with police officers just in time to arrest the hit men and a few members of the Section, including Birger Wadensjöö. Shortly after Salander's trial begins, her lawyer uses the folders of child pornography to discredit Dr. Teleborian, exactly as planned. Salander also shares the video of her violent rape by Nils Bjurman to help prove she was exploited and framed. At the same time the police interview Wadensjöö who divulges many details of the Section's operations, including plans to institutionalize Salander. Säpo investigator Torsten Edklinth realizes Salander has indeed been framed by rogue members of his organization. At the trial the judge finds Salander innocent of all charges and has her guardianship revoked. After the trial Salander does some traveling, including visiting her friend and ex-lover, Miriam Wu, in Paris.

Epilogue

Salander returns home and discovers she has inherited one of Zalachenko's properties—an abandoned warehouse. She quickly realizes the warehouse was used to house victims of human trafficking. She also discovers her half brother, Ronald Niedermann, hiding out there. Niedermann hates Salander and hopes to avenge their father's death by killing her. Salander manages to hold her own against her half brother—a physically dominating giant—by nailing his feet to the ground with a nail gun, then she alerts the Svavelsjö Motorcycle Club to his location, knowing the angry motorcycle gang will finish him off. Salander returns home, and Blomkvist arrives soon after. After months of ignoring him, Salander welcomes Blomkvist back into her life with open arms.

Analysis

Gender

The epigraphs in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest follow a theme: women are just as well suited as men to be soldiers. "History is reticent about women who were common soldiers," although "hardly a war has been waged without women soldiers in their ranks." Lisbeth Salander is the most obvious female warrior in the fight against corruption; she's viewed as the enemy, enters one-on-one battles, and has taken a bullet to the head. If there are any doubts in readers' minds about tiny Salander's ability to hold her own against all foes, they likely vanish when she engages in hand-to-hand combat with Ronald Niedermann, her monstrous, hit-man half brother—a man who literally feels no pain. Feats like this establish Salander as a "warrior queen." Perhaps Stieg Larsson sought to counterbalance Salander's diminutive size by giving her breast implants in The Girl Who Played with Fire, making her more like an Amazon, whose "large breasts" he describes in detail in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Echoing the original Swedish title for Book 1, Men Who Hate Women, Mikael Blomkvist says his story about Salander is "about violence against women and the men who enable it." Female characters experience a wide range of violence, including kidnapping, stalking, forced prostitution, physical abuse, and murder. They also contend with sexism; the police department's attitude toward their fellow detective Sonja Modig is one prominent example. Larsson unwittingly contributes to this sexist atmosphere by sexualizing all his female characters. It isn't enough for women like Erika Berger, Lisbeth Salander, Sonja Modig, and Monica Figuerola to be strong and smart; they are also physically beautiful and sexually adventurous. All except the married Modig are powerless to resist the charms of Blomkvist, arguably a version of Larsson himself. Although Blomkvist supposes he's "in love with several people," each of the seemingly strong women falls in love with him and is hurt by his philandering.

Erika Berger

Book 3 spends much time on the subplot of Erika Berger's move to the newspaper SMP and the child labor story. Berger's subplot does nothing to advance the novel's main plot, which concerns the conspiracy around Alexander Zalachenko and Salander. However, the subplot makes sense thematically because it highlights the range of discrimination women face. After Berger is recruited from Millennium magazine to make big changes at SMP, she faces discrimination, stonewalling, cyberattacks, and stalking, all because she's a woman, and a very successful one at that. Her stalker, Peter Fredriksson, attacks her because she didn't pay him enough attention in high school. Berger becomes a "warrior" when, after her stalker smashes her window and breaks into her apartment, she decides to arm herself with weapons and protect her domain rather than seek protection elsewhere. At work, Berger maintains journalistic integrity by running the child labor story about her boss and resigning from SMP rather burying the story to keep her job.

Truth

Books 2 and 3 focus on the long, twisted web of deceit created to conceal the truth about Zalachenko's crimes. Initially, the cover-ups happen as a matter of national security: if news of Zalachenko's crimes (and therefore his identity and location) spreads, Sweden will be vulnerable to Russian attacks—either to punish Sweden for harboring Zalachenko or to reclaim him. On a personal level, Lisbeth Salander inadvertently threatens to expose Zalachenko as revenge for abusing her mother, Agneta. The Section—the secret group of agents within the already secret government organization Säkerhetspolisen (Säpo)—concocts a plan to brand Salander as insane and institutionalize her to stop her from spreading stories about Zalachenko. This results in Salander's abuse at Dr. Peter Teleborian's hands, and later her rape by her legal guardian, Nils Bjurman.

In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, characters can be divided into two teams: those who seek to expose the truth and those who seek to hide it. For those who seek to hide the truth, primarily the Section, each lie spawns another; by the novel's end the web of lies is so vast and intricate, it's impossible not to trip over them. When truth-seekers like Mikael Blomkvist and Monica Figuerola grasp one thread, they quickly link it to another, allowing them to create a devastating defense that earns Lisbeth Salander her freedom.

Love and Friendship

Throughout the series, Salander keeps most people at arm's length. She has few friends, enjoys solitude, and pushes away intimacy, even with those she loves (such as Blomkvist). Her twin sister, Camilla Salander, is estranged; her half brother, Ronald Niedermann, is a hit man; and her father, Alexander Zalachenko, is pure evil; after her mother, Agneta, dies, Salander's "family" consists of a group of anonymous hackers, only two of whom she's met in real life. Despite this, Salander comes to realize how many people care about her. She assumed she would be alone in fighting Dr. Peter Teleborian and the charges against her, so she's startled to learn of Team Salander, which includes Mikael Blomkvist, Dragan Armansky, Jan Bublanksi, Sonja Modig, Annika Giannini, and Dr. Anders Jonasson. After years of abuse and neglect, Salander doesn't expect anyone to care what happens to her; she can't believe people like Bublanksi and Jonasson will risk their jobs to protect her. In Book 1 Blomkvist tells Salander, "Friendship—my definition—is built on two things. Respect and trust." Salander realizes people she respects, including Blomkvist and Armansky, respect her and trust that she is innocent. When the trial ends she feels indebted to her friends but has no idea how to thank them. Her gesture toward Blomkvist at the end of the novel welcomes him back into her life after months of stonewalling, both physically and symbolically. The novel also sends a message of female empowerment through the relationships between women. Although they all love the same man—Blomkvist—Monica Figuerola works diligently to prove Salander's innocence, and Salander helps Erika Berger uncover her stalker's identity.

Alongside friendship is love. Because she's in love with Blomkvist, Salander pushes him away for months to avoid being vulnerable to disappointment. Because Stieg Larsson planned to explore Blomkvist and Salander's relationship over a series of 10 books, Blomkvist's feelings toward Salander—and other women in his life (including Berger and Figuerola)—remains confused: "If love means liking someone an awful lot, then I suppose I'm in love with several people." Statements such as this leave the door open for Blomkvist to explore romance without committing to a single relationship. Interestingly, when Salander visits Miriam Wu in Paris, she realizes that her own concept of love has changed, and she and Wu would be better off as friends.

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