As Judith Lorber noted, the discrepancy between Lisbeth Salander’s looks and her ability to defend herself is part of the story’s appeal. Although she’s been compared to Clint Eastwood’s avenger characters, Lisbeth Salander as played by Noomi Rapace appears to be a victim. Eastwood is a tall, broad-shouldered man whose body language and stone face can radiate threat; his enemies know to be wary, and only gloat when he is seriously outnumbered. But when two bikers find Salander alone at a cabin in the woods they can interpret her lack of expression to mean anything, even that she is too slow-witted to understand her danger. So they gloat all over her. The second biker continues to gloat even after she has laid out the first. Like the corrupt shrink who is trying to get her put away forever, they are so convinced that she can’t hurt them that they don’t believe it even when she does. These men perceive Salander as their natural prey – a woman barely five feet tall, weighing less than a hundred pounds soaking wet, and all alone.
But all alone is Salander’s natural state. She is not part of any group, except for an international community of ace hackers who usually connect online instead of in person. Like most good detective and thriller protagonists, Salander is a loner. In her case she is isolated by her own personality as well as the circumstances of her life – as if she has been turned to stone by forces outside her control.
It’s not that she doesn’t care about other people. There’s plenty of evidence of her feeling for those few she calls friends, like her old guardian Holger Palmgren, her friend and lover Miriam Wu, and her ex-boss Armansky. But Lisbeth is often misread (by Armansky, for instance), since she can’t show what she feels. In most cases, she doesn’t want to. Lisbeth has learned to rely on herself, and a poker face has enabled her survival. The way she stonewalls official interrogators when charged with the attempted murder of her father, by saying nothing and showing no emotion, not even making eye contact, means they can’t put words in her mouth or use her feelings against her. What helps her maintain a stone face for hours on end is its emotional equivalent – she doesn’t give a damn what the authorities think of her, only what they can do to her. She has no emotional connection to them, no stake in gaining their approval. (Many young women, in comments on blog sites,* admired this quality most – Lisbeth doesn’t need anyone’s approval.) She cannot be manipulated by fear of what others think.
*P.S. I re-found the site, which had been discontinued. It was at unputdownables.net, and the article that prefaced it, written by a young woman whose name I can’t find, was called “Why is the girl with the dragon tattoo so damn popular?” A good article, if anyone else can find it, let me know.