Under Salander’s skin- Accepting the abnormal, admiring the survivors – Feb 03, 2012
Halfway through the 3rd novel of the Millenium trilogy, I am deeply delving into Salander’s psyche. At work, we are trying to put together a social assessment for a project on urban housing. So I’ve been spending a long time trying to analyze what life means to vulnerable groups like women, the elderly, SC/STs, the very poor (those who earn below Rs 5000 per month per household), religious minorities, etc.
In the trilogy, Steig Larsson is making a comment on how society (read producers and consumers of media) find it easy to condemn anybody who appears different, unlike the majority, unlike ‘us’! His book is about the misuse of power, about facing the reality that even the most evolved societies have their share of psychopaths and wierdos; and about how human nature is hopelessly intertwined with a desire to dominate and humiliate others while pleasing the self.
We see proof of this everyday as soon as we open the newspaper each morning. India’s urban areas, especially metropolis, are experiencing an acute awareness and fear of crime. Crime against women (rape, dowry-related torture, harassment, eve teasing, discrimination at work) is a significant fear. Violent crimes related to property, family and personal disputes, theft scream out from the headlines everyday. Honor crimes, more specific to our society, make many of us hang our head in shame, while a significant part of the population considers this a way of life.
The book also points out that individuals who have been through traumatic experiences through childhood and early adulthood develop severe complexes and exhibit behavioral idiosyncrasies throughout their lives. Lisbeth certainly does in the book. I know of many people in real life whose present behavior is a result of traumatic experiences in the past.
My grandmother’s extreme stubbornness (she is 97 and does exactly as she pleases, including insisting on heating her bathing water over a chulha!), can easily be attributed to the fact that she widowed at 30 with the responsibility of 4 young children. My father documents this in his autobiography ‘Metamorphosis’ and spoke about his analysis to me often. Sometimes, when we try to reason with her to accept something we think will make her life easier (a new appliance, for instance), her face clouds over and we know she will outrightly reject the suggestion. We can only imagine what is playing through her mind at that point! And because we love her immensely, most of the time, we simply let the matter go, only to try again another time (I can see my cousins, uncles and aunts who live near her smiling at this!)
We are surrounded by people with traumatic personal histories; how much do we know and do we empathize? How do we be sensitive without being patronizing? I, for one, immensely admire those I know to have survived and rationalized these experiences. Even more, I admire those who are able to share and talk about them honestly and I have seen how they can be an inspiration to others who are yet to face their demons, whatever they may be…and don’t we all have them?