Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Pushkin’s “The Queen of Spades” is considered one of the seminal short stories of Russian literature, the beginning of a rich tradition. The main theme, however, is a moral borrowed from the ancient heritage of Latin and Greek literature: the golden mean. Hermann is a Russified German, a device in Russian literature used to depict the virtues of prudence, moderation, and hard work—the opposite of another stock device, the Russian who goes to extremes and lives life to the fullest. Obsession with winning money deflects Hermann from the correct path and disaster ensues; he goes broke and mad at the same time. The obsession also kills his humanity as he callously misuses Elizaveta, is responsible for the death of the countess, and then represses any feeling of remorse that he felt for this act.

Another view sees the story as the depiction of the power of the supernatural. If man tempts fate, then he is liable to punishment. The game is a symbol of life governed by fate; Hermann tries to short-circuit the process by using the secret and is destroyed.

A third view sees the queen of spades as the countess’s revenge on Hermann for being frightened to death. Perhaps all three views are valid interpretations of the tale.