Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In the second paragraph of “Queen of Diamonds,” Ray comments that nothing her mother wants is out of her reach. The literal reference is to such hospital paraphernalia as a pillow and a desk, but the metaphorical meaning illuminates a prominent theme. Christine is the “Queen of Diamonds” because her expert manipulations have allowed her to survive. Her trump in life is fate, the magical entity with which she repeatedly deceives, and occasionally defeats, reality. However, Christine knows what she will not admit; her wins involve cheats. “I quit when I’m ahead,” she says, later adding, “The object of the game is to reduce everything to one stack.”

Just as she plays her cards, Christine reduces her passion in life to one object, the love of a husband incapable of achieving stability. The stakes increase as her manipulations escalate; Christine’s hospital stays have yet to be caused by disease, and most of her ailments surface in the middle of the night. Christine’s frenetic denial in the form of excessive consumption of alcohol finds its obsessive/compulsive and passive/ aggressive mirror image in her constant manipulations. In the hospital, the carefree party girl becomes the penultimate victim, demanding the last rites.

Wandering the hospital corridors, Ray feels invisible. Her reference extends beyond the people in green uniforms whom she passes; she knows it is her parents who ignore her. Ray’s statement, “The lobby is deserted, but I know my way around,” alludes to the fact that Ray has learned to negotiate life on her own.

Ray fantasizes about encountering her father as he conducts his mail route, but because he is not a full-time employee, his track is unpredictable. Just as Elgin is a temporary postal carrier, he is a part-time husband and father with an unpredictable track. Hence Ray, the child who gets lost between Elgin’s shuffle to fulfill his whims and Christine’s shuffling of the cards with which she bets her future, copes on her own. The wisdom she...

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