What is the theme of the short story "The Lottery Ticket"? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of "The Lottery Ticket" by Anton Chekhov is the insidiously exciting but destructive nature of envy and desire for material possessions. 

In the exposition of Chekhov's story, Ivan Dmitritch and his wife Masha are quite content with the existing economic state in which they reside. But, when his wife mentions that she is in possession of a lottery ticket and her number may be in the newspaper this day, things begin to change. Ivan Dmitritch looks in the paper and discovers that his wife's series number matches the series number posted in the paper. "'Masha, 9,499 is there!' he said in a hollow voice." She, too, becomes excited just to know that part of their number matches the winning one for 75,000:

[T]o torment and tantalize oneself with hopes of possible fortune is so sweet, so thrilling!

Ivan Dmitritch tells his wife how he would like to purchase property and pay the immediate expenses, purchase new furnishings, engage in some travel, and make payment of all debts. He would save perhaps 40,000 in the bank and draw interest on it. Further, he engages in a more detailed reverie of how he would spend his days while his wife merely repeats absently "Yes, it would be nice to buy an estate," but seems to have her own thoughts as he develops his. In addition, he decides that he would like to travel abroad and visit various interesting places in Europe and enjoy the company of cosmopolitan people.

Suddenly, it occurs to him that his wife would not be interested in such travel, perhaps complaining that the train's rumblings make her head ache as she clutches her many parcels as they make their journeys. He reflects,

"She would only be in my way. I should be dependent upon her. I can fancy how, like a regular woman, she will lock the money up as soon as she gets it.... She will look after her relations and grudge me every farthing."

As he engages in these thoughts about her relatives, those "wretched detestable people," Masha's thoughts move in another direction as she considers that her husband will desire to grab all her winnings.

Now they look at each other with hatred and anger. As though out of spite, Ivan Dmitritch grabs the newspaper and turns to the page that has the other number. It is not hers. Suddenly, both their hopes and their sprouting hatred for each other disappear. But their home seems to appear differently to the husband and wife as a certain discontent settles upon them now because

...their rooms were dark and small and low-pitched, ...the supper they had been eating was not doing them good, but lying heavy on their stomachs, ...the evenings were long and wearisome.

In an ill-humor, Ivan Dmitritch looks around in discontent and complains of the condition of their rooms. He shouts that he is forced to go out. Rising, he curses and threatens to hang himself on the aspen tree.

His desire for more has changed the appearance of his life, his home.  His prospects pale in comparison to the greedy imaginings of just a short while ago as the seeds of envy for wealth and material possessions have consumed him.