Classic VS Contemporary Works Analysis: To Kill A Mockingbird VS. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

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Harper Lee wrote To Kill A Mockingbird in 1960 about a small town in Georgia that she knew as a child.  Lee took the events, the people, the setting that she knew well and created a semi-autobiographical story, which “inspired her fictional community of Maycomb” (Chen). Stieg Larsson used the same literary device in his novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, written in 2005. As a teenager Larsson had a friend named Lisbeth who he witnessed being gang raped and “never intervened” (James).  Larsson used this real life event to construct a fictionalized, semi-autobiographical story about a strong, independent, intelligent woman named Lisbeth who had endured great tragedy in her life, but it fueled her to accomplish things other women in her society were not doing. The story takes place in Sweden, where Larsson was born and raised. Lee and Larsson wrote novels as vehicles for their stories utilizing a similar story arch projection to create conflict, crisis, and resolution in two different ways, while mimicking similar techniques in storytelling, regardless of the time period they wrote about.

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Both Larsson and Lee took real life events and spun great fiction out of them, constructing similar models in narrative storytelling, using diction, syntax, and prose that is specific to the geography of their stories, invoking the rhythm and pace of their stories based upon the urgency of the story themselves. To Kill A Mockingbird takes place in the south, so the exposition of the story depicts the slow southern lifestyle which dictates the pace of the story. Lee captures southern society where each person knew their role and they never questioned it.  Scout says in the novel “(w)hen I was almost six and Jem was nearly ten, our summertime boundaries (within calling distance of Calpurnia) were Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose’s house two doors to the north of us, and the Radley Place three doors to the south. (Lee)” Scouts diction and syntax demonstrates her perception of the world in Lee’s novel. Scout follows this clearly defined portrait of her world with “we were never tempted to break them,” which sets the stage for Lee’s characters to push those limits as Lee pushes them as the author of the story (Lee).  Throughout the novel crisis and conflict occur within the confines of Scouts world. When Lee brings the novels largest conflict of Tom Robbins on trial for a rape he did not commit, Scout goes into town to the courthouse for the trial, pushing the limits of where she is allowed to go.  The children innocently went to town to see their father and with their worlds still boxed in by streets they were allowed to play within, Scout’s worldview opened up when Atticus was not happy to see them there.  “Go home, Jem,” he said followed by “take Scout and Dill home” as well, Atticus sternly told the children (Lee).  Macomb county just got a little bit bigger for Lee’s characters.

In the large world of international crime and drama, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo uses an espionage, crime drama genre to tell the story of Lisbeth and Millennium Magazine, so the hastened, sometimes impending danger tone of life surrounding the bombings in Swedish society in 2005, when the story takes place, dictates the pace and rhythm of the story.  Larsson uses the rhythm and pace of the story’s narrative to invoke anxiety in the reader and control the moments to relax and when to feel anxious again.  These novels demonstrate two examples of the same technique, but executed in two different ways. The exposition of the novel lays down the pace of the characters everyday lives, but crisis and conflict quickly erupt and work towards solving them for a resolution that invokes a second and then a third novel in this series. Larsson influences readers to develop questions and empathy for the tragic hero Lisbeth with creative prose constructed of carefully chosen diction and syntax. In the resolution Lisbeth fights her toughest opponets in the novel and Larsson encapsulates her strength by describing her “expressionless eyes,” which amazes her enemy, leaving him to think she is “supernatural” a “monster,” (Larsson).  These adjectives describe a character that has more to say and do.  The reader is put on warning Lisbeth Salander is not done telling her story.  “Salander was afraid of no-one and nothing,” writes Larsson.

Lee uses methods in To Kill A Mockingbird that manipulates responses of empathy, excitement, anger, sadness, and fear in readers.  While building up the reader’s interest into Boo Radley’s living situation, Lee uses diction and syntax to invoke emotions in the reader for Boo, yet continues to let her characters feel fear of the unknown, unfamiliar inside the life of Boo.  In The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Larsson also uses diction and syntax to invoke emotions in the reader for Lisbeth and lets the characters in the story fear her due to her unknown, unfamiliar aesthetic that is alarming to those that meet her.  Lee arranges the words and phrases of her narrative using character Scout (Jean Louise Finch) to stamp the story with the signature diction of southern Alabama lexicon. Scout is a fast paced, often in a hurry, explosive, reactive character always ready to get into a fight, often with the boys in her school or neighborhood. Lee uses Scout’s brother Jem as a balance to Scout’s behavior by being just as much a thrill seeker as Scout, but not a fighter. Jem pulls Scout off of the other kids she fights and it is Jem who quietly observes certain situations before going off and acting foolishly. The result may be the same, but it is two different approaches that Lee intertwines well in this story to give balance and nuance to the prose she constructs.

Larsson writes Lisbeth as an often non-verbal character that displays no fear or anxiety in any situation, whether she is talking to the a kid on the corner or the head of the KGB intelligence bureau, Lisbeth does not change her behavior or how she conducts herself. Lisbeth comes across as rough, abrasive, unconventionally dressed and often uses vulgar language. For a woman in any society, this can be alarming. As a counterweight, Larsson writes Mikael Blomkvist, a publisher of a magazine that is going through some troubles for politically driven articles in his magazine. Blomkvist is a professional. He conducts himself with manners, attractive attire and speech, and is romantically involved with the magazines co-owner Erika Berger, further reinforcing his attractiveness as a character. Larsson uses this character to balance Lisbeth.  Blomkvist intersects with Lisbeth once he gets a case to look into about a long cold murder case that requires a good hacker.  Lisbeth is a professional hacker that is on a whole other level above her male colleagues who is also in need of no one. When Blomkvist starts to find himself sexually attracted to Lisbeth “having inappropriate daydreams about Lisbeth Salander” because “Salander was a foreign creature to him,” Larsson uses this connection as a way to arch his story towards romance, which softens the fictitious prose narrative of the novel (Larsson).

Larsson uses a specific style of syntax with Lisbeth to create the individuality that she represents in the story and a universal syntax and diction for the rest of the characters. This tactic reinforces how alone Lisbeth is in her world. Since The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo is a murder mystery crime novel, the rhythm of the story waxes and wanes through paced heartbeat style pacing. Initially the story is paced to lay the groundwork for the story so the reader is just going along learning. Lisbeth tells Blomkvist, “everyone has secrets… it’s just a matter of finding out what they are,” which is the key to Larsson’s prose throughout the novel. (Larsson) As the reader is trying to find out everyone’s secrets, so are the characters. Once the reader has captured who the characters are and tasked with caring about them the bombings, man hunts, and political espionage begins. Along the way throughout the story readers are told about the abuse Lisbeth not only endured in her past, but was currently enduring, but it is when Lisbeth turns the tables on her rapist social worker that the story elevates itself above most other stories in this genre. Lisbeth’s skills as a hacker give her an omniscient being type of status in the story that allows her to be in several places at once and Larsson uses that to challenge the reader’s idea of who Lisbeth is.  In To Kill A Mockingbird, Lee creates the ultimate omniscient character with the Atticus, the father to Scout and Jem. Atticus is who the children, the sheriff, his sister, his brother, the town people, even the criminal goes to for insight and guidance. Atticus is not a hacker, or a man of supernatural power, or even an exceptional human being with genius type thinking, but he is a sage.  Lee uses Atticus to move the story forward throughout the novel. As the characters play out their objectives they often check in with Atticus for some direction or insight into how to proceed. It is because of Atticus that To Kill A Mockingbird is an often quoted source of literary material because his almost God like status in the town of Maycomb elevates this character in a way that Lisbeth’s character is almost Goddess like in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, they know more than most and therefore both novels pivot from their centers.  These centers pull other attributes from characters into others for a few blurred lines between who is similar to whom between the two novels.  There are many attributes of Boo Radley that a reader can decipher as being part of Lisbeth Salander’s character, the histories of abuse, the damaged human identity, and the hidden away recluse lifestyles of them both.  Jem is similar in nature to Christer Malm in Larsson’s story, because they are both ready at any moment to take over when the moment arises. When Atticus needs Scout to be looked after, it is her older brother Jem that he calls upon to do so. Scout is similar to Pernilla Abrahamsson, Blomkvist’s daughter as they are both strong, intelligent children in their stories who stand strong to their convictions, are avid readers, and both stand up to the men in their lives regardless of their status.

Lee and Larsson wrote novels as vehicles for their stories utilizing a similar story arch projection to create conflict, crisis, and resolution in two different ways, while mimicking similar techniques in storytelling, regardless of the time period they wrote about.  The medium of the novel carried their stories through in a way that a short story, poem, or novella would not have been able. It is the weight of the stories themselves that drive the necessity of the medium. The novels were written about two different periods in history, using similar conventions for storytelling, but stood out from the novels published in their years.  Harper Lee’s voice as a writer stood out in 1960 during a sea of great novels written that year, but it was her characters that popped off the page making To Kill A Mockingbird an excellent example of crisis, conflict, resolution in a story.  Several story plots were spinning in this novel that required careful weaving of the crisis, conflict, and resolution model throughout all of the plots. Lee accomplished this with each one, making this novel stand out during its published year.  In 2005 when The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was published crime novels were not uncommon, but Larsson wrote this trilogy with the intention of writing more, but he died in 2004 (Larsson).  When the Swedish publishers took this novel to print and that included the United States, the novel stood out due “his bravery in tackling extremist organizations” (Biography)

 

Works Cited

Biography.com Editors.  Stieg Larsson Biography.  The Biography.com website. A&E

Television Networks. N.d. Retrieved June 7, 2016 from http://www.biography.com/people/stieg-larsson-17181752#profile

Chen, D. (n.d.). 19 Things You Never Knew About Harper Lee and ‘To Kill a

Mockingbird’. Retrieved June 7, 2016, from http://www.rd.com/culture/harper-lee-to-kill-a-mockingbird-facts/

James, S. D. (2010, August 05). Stieg Larsson Silent as Real-Life Lisbeth Raped.

Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/stieg-larsson-guilt-gang-rape-lisbeth-fueled-millennium/story?id=11324859

Larsson, S. (n.d.). The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Retrieved June 7, 2016, from

http://stieglarsson.com/the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-stieg-larsson-the-man-behind-lisbeth-salander-40/

Larsson, Stieg. (2005) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Sweden:Vintage Crime/Black

Lizard Publishing.

Lee, Harper. (1960)  To Kill A Mockingbird. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.

Scott, J. (2013). Creative Writing and Stylistics: Creative and Critical Approaches. New

York, NY: Palgrave Macmillian.

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