by Randall Allen Dunn
However, it was not Lisbeth Salander’s astonishing lack of emotional involvement that most upset him. Milton’s image was one of conservative stability. Salander fitted into this picture about as well as a buffalo at a boat show. Armansky’s star researcher was a pale, anorexic young woman who had hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows. She has a wasp tattoo about an inch long on her neck, a tattooed loop around the biceps of her left arm and another around her left ankle. On those occasions when she had been wearing a tank top, Armansky also saw that she had a dragon tattoo on her left shoulder blade. She was a natural redhead, but she dyed her hair raven black. She looked as though she had just emerged from a week-long orgy with a gang of hard rockers.
We all encounter some people that we just don’t know how to handle. People can be so deeply hurt by others that they have trouble forming new relationships, even with people who seem really friendly and nice. It helps to remember that those people don’t always know how to handle us, either. Especially if we approach them with a sense of judgment or control, demanding that they look and act a certain way before we can spend time with them.
Without knowing the private details, most of us probably know someone who has suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of others. Physical, verbal, sexual. One person assumes power over another – or is given responsibility to care for another – and abuses that person. Sometimes as part of an ongoing and horrifying routine. The victim is trapped, unable to defend themselves or even seek help, having no one they can count on to believe and support them. And so the abuse continues.
Later, that victim has to go out in public, putting a plastic smile on their face to hide their shame and fear and pain. Knowing that the abuse will continue, and they can do nothing to stop it.
If that sounds shocking to you, that people can continue to suffer ongoing abuse with no ability to call in authorities to help, then you will likely be shocked by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. It’s not for the faint of heart, or the weak of stomach.
The young woman of the title, Lisbeth Salander, is something of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. She provides a stark contrast to modern thinking in the same way that Arthur Conan Doyle’s character did to Victorian society. While the vast majority of English society believed in limitless expansion of knowledge and imperial growth, Holmes scoffed at those who judged by outward appearances and contemporary trends. He saw the mind as a limited space that should not be cluttered with needless information, and he distrusted the authorities – especially those of Scotland Yard – to carry out their duties properly. Instead of rounding up the usual suspects and theorizing a crime, Holmes drew concrete conclusions from objects found at the crime scene. His strange, alternative methods for solving cases provided the foundation for forensic science, and for many other literary detectives that followed his example.
Like Holmes, Lisbeth Salander is such a unique individual that she defies every category. Even her closest associate, Dragan Armansky, her CEO at Milton Security, can’t understand her, or why she refuses to even try to fit in socially. Yet he can’t deny that she gets results no one else can.
Armansky was bewildered and also angry with himself for having so obviously misjudged her. He had taken her for stupid, maybe even retarded. He had not expected that a girl who had cut so many classes in school that she did not graduate could write a report so grammatically correct. It also contained etailed observations and information, and he quite simply could not comprehend how she could have acquired such facts.
He could not imagine that anyone else at Milton Security would have lifted excerpts from the confidential journal of a doctor at a women’s crisis centre. When he asked her how she had managed that, she told him that she had no intention of burning her sources. It became clear that Salander was not going to discuss her work methods, either with him or with anyone else.
The fact is, Lisbeth Salander is an extremely accomplished investigator, who puts her competitors to shame. But she doesn’t – and won’t – fit in. While most of us can admire her talents, we might not feel comfortable sitting down with her for dinner. Not because she wears dark Goth clothing and make-up. Not because she conveys an air of disdain and superiority in those rare moments when she speaks at all. Not because she seems full of pent-up hostility. But because Lisbeth gives the distinct impression that she doesn’t actually want you there, since she doesn’t really trust anyone. And if she can’t trust you, how can you ever be friends with her?
It’s a question Lisbeth often asks of herself, wondering how she can fit in with others. And whether such a thing is even possible, for someone like her.
Lisbeth harshly condemns the self-deluded way people think and act in modern society, just as Holmes did. But while Holmes criticized it as an observer, Lisbeth criticizes it as one of its victims.
Lisbeth developed her own sense of justice at an early age, having witnessed her father’s relentless physical abuse of her mother. She developed an intense hatred for men who abuse women. When she was attacked by a school bully, she exacted her revenge the next day by beating him severely with a baseball bat. Similar instances of violence, along with drunken nights spent on the street with older men, led the courts to determine that Lisbeth was a dangerous and psychotic girl in desperate need of rehabilitative therapy.
Not yet an adult, Lisbeth is assigned a legal guardian. After her previous guardian suffers a stroke, Lisbeth is assigned to a new one, Nils Bjurman, who refuses to let her control her own finances. He then proceeds to quietly rape her, knowing she can never testify against him as a credible witness. He doesn’t use physical force, since one word from him could land Lisbeth in jail, with no one to believe her story. After all, she’s got a nasty reputation as a problem child, and Nils Bjurman is a respected member of society.
You see how it works.
Lisbeth later ensures that her corrupt guardian can never hurt her again. Which probably makes her a heroine to many abuse victims throughout the world, who could never find a way to escape the power of their abusers.
But it doesn’t help Lisbeth to live her life. To go out into the world and feel like a normal human being. Let alone be treated by one.
That’s where other people come in. Lisbeth later meets Mikhail Blomkvist, a disgraced journalist who has been summoned to solve a decades-old murder. She was assigned to use her impressive computer hacking and investigative skills to do a thorough background check on Blomkvist for the Vanger family that had considered hiring him. When Blomkvist learns this, he is shocked and angry, but he recognizes that Lisbeth’s impressive abilities can help him solve his case. He meets her at her apartment, refusing to apologize for what she sees as an invasion of her privacy. After all, she gave the Vanger family a very thorough report on his own life.
Lisbeth feels utterly uncomfortable working with a partner. Especially an adult man. But when she sees that Blomkvist has no interest in her sexually, no interest in controlling her, no interest in harming her in any way – she agrees to help him.
Though Lisbeth’s antisocial behavior continues to puzzle Blomkvist, he allows her to be herself, without judgment. Giving Lisbeth the opportunity to trust him. Over time, though she still insists on keeping him at arm’s length, she is able to accept Blomkvist as a partner. And even as a friend.
When you meet people like Lisbeth who have received rough handling from abusive people, don’t be shocked if they seem defensive and have trouble trusting you. Trusting others hasn’t worked out so well for them in the past. Treat them with care, patience and respect.
We can’t always relate to other people’s perspective, especially if they’ve been hardened through years of abuse or harsh treatment. But we can remain open to them, ready to show hospitality and friendliness. And after that, we can wait – patiently – for those people to feel comfortable enough to trust us more.
Be careful how you judge others. Their behavior might seem strange or difficult to handle, but beneath the surface, that person might just need assurance that you’re a person they can trust over the long haul.
One less rejection from you can go a long way toward establishing trust.
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