Gambling in Alexander Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades
In Alexander Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades, Hermann, the story’s main protagonist gambles everything he has on a card game, thinking that he would surely win. Of course that is why it is called gambling, there are risks involved, he looses everything, along with his sanity. In their own unique way, the major characters are gambling with their lives, Hermann, Lizaveta, the Countess, and even Tomsky.
Gambling of the Characters
The story starts out appropriately with characters playing cards, except for Hermann who “has never held a card in his hands, never staked a penny on one,” (Pushkin, 1834). Hermann is relatively rich, thanks to the small fortune left by his father, but he believes that he must be independent [financially]. He claims that he is “…very much interested in cards, ‘but I am not in a position to sacrifice the essential in the hope of acquiring the superfluous” (Pushkin 1834). Ironically, his drive for financial independence would lead him to gambling. Somehow they find themselves drinking and a story about an old countess comes up. Tomsky mentions that he has a grandmother that can predict three cards in succession but hasn’t used it again nor pass the knowledge to anyone, not even to her immediate family members. Hermann becomes obsessed with this story and schemes a plan that would bring him closer to the countess. He is successful but his methods kills the countess. He would find out the three cards that he need through the ghost of the countess. The countess makes a deal with Hermann that she would give the three cards provided that he marries Lizaveta. Hermann agrees. From the moment that Hermann agreed on this deal he has staked everything he’s got. His gamble is unnecessary because he is already an independent man, despite his doubts. For the pursuit of more money rather than independence, he gambles then looses everything. He is okay up until the second card but on the third card, instead of an ace, a queen appears, breaking all his hopes. He looses because he didn’t marry Lizaveta, and from the beginning he was foolish enough to believe the story, and especially a tip from someone that he has just killed.
Lizaveta gambled in the sense that she was inviting an affair from a man whom she knows little or nothing at all. If anything she should be afraid of Hermann because he was acting like a stalker, mysteriously appearing and reappearing around the house of the countess. By associating herself with Hermann, she gambles on trusting a man that she knew so little about. She gives him details on the geography of the house. As I’ve said, Hermann could have been a stalker or worse. If anything happens in the house, she would be linked to the crime because of her connection with Hermann, not to mention her detailed instructions of the rooms.
The Countess (or her ghost) gambles by revealing her secret to a man who threatened her life, or rather played a part in the Countess’s death. She shouldn’t have trusted Hermann in the first place because he didn’t prove himself to be trustworthy to her. He did after all, break into her house and pointed a gun at the countess and probably causing her to have a heart attack in the process. It is also doubtful why the countess revealed to anyone her story, if indeed it was true. If somebody knows it, it’s very likely that more will. She gambles the life of her family for revealing the story. People would be all over the Countess’s family, trying to squeeze out the “card trick”, putting their lives in danger. Just like what Hermann has done. People are willing to do anything for the sake of money.
Tomsky, as small as his part is, also risks something in the story. By revealing the card trick story, he has gambled too on his own and family’s life, much like how the Countess gambled on telling the story. Tomsky also exposed themselves by telling the story to a greedy man. He should have known better, even if Hemann hasn’t held a card in his life, money can change personalities as fast as a dealer can shuffle the cards.
Pushkin, A. (1834). The Queen of Spades.