Anton Chekhov

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

Analysis and Themes of Anton Chekhov's "The Lottery Ticket"

Summary:

Anton Chekhov's "The Lottery Ticket" explores themes of greed, disillusionment, and the fragility of human relationships. The story centers on a couple who fantasize about winning the lottery, revealing their underlying dissatisfaction and selfish desires. As their dreams unravel, so does their bond, highlighting how the lure of sudden wealth can expose the darker aspects of human nature.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme of "The Lottery Ticket" by Anton Chekhov?

At the beginning of "The Lottery Ticket," Ivan Dmitritch is described as a man "who lived with his family on an income of twelve hundred a year and was very well satisfied with his lot." He is sitting peacefully after dinner, reading the paper. Not much later, the story ends with this formerly contented man reflecting miserably on his misfortune and crying savagely:

Damnation take my soul entirely! I shall go and hang myself on the first aspen-tree!

Ivan Dmitritch's situation has not changed since the beginning of the story. He has not lost anything in reality. In his imagination, however, he has won and lost a fortune—or his wife has. Even without ever getting their hands on the money, both husband and wife have spent it in their minds, quarreled over it, and been made miserable by it.

The main theme of the story, therefore, is the way in which trouble and unhappiness are primarily the product of one's own mind. This is particularly true for modern, middle-class, comfortable people like Ivan Dmitritch and his wife, Masha. Some people, of course, are sick or starving, or have other genuine troubles. The couple in the story, however, had no financial worries before they thought they had won the lottery, and the prospect of this large sum of money merely makes them anxious and hostile to one another. They have everything they need in life, and it is only their foolish and destructive thoughts that make them unhappy.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme of "The Lottery Ticket" by Anton Chekhov?

Love of money, as they say, is the root of all evil. In “The Lottery Ticket,” by Anton Chekhov, it's the prospect of winning a large sum of money that proves to be a major source of evil, generating considerable tension between an ostensibly happy husband and wife.

Before fate dangled the prospects of phenomenal riches before Ivan Dmitritch and his wife, Masha, they were an ordinary, middle-class couple leading what appears to have been a fairly contented existence. But when it seems that Masha's ticket has won the lottery, their heads are suddenly turned, and they start fantasizing about how they will spend their imminent windfall.

In doing so, however, they start to become deeply distrustful of one another. Both Ivan and Masha quickly come to believe that the other is going to be negatively changed by their sudden good luck. Ivan is worried that Masha will either abandon him or use the money to control him. As for Masha, she resents Ivan for wanting to spend what is, after all, her money. (It was her ticket that won the lottery.)

In both cases, what we can see is a prime illustration of the way that money—or in this case, the prospect of money—can corrupt the soul. What was once a contented marriage has been contaminated by mutual loathing and suspicion, and all because of a lottery win that turns out to be no such thing.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme of "The Lottery Ticket" by Anton Chekhov?

The central theme in "The Lottery Ticket" is the exploration of how money affects and corrupts those who possess it. The couple in this story imagines what they would do with the money if they should win the lottery. Up until now, the couple has lived comfortably and in relative happiness; however, their thoughts about what they would do should they become rich reveals how money affects people, even if it is just the idea of money. This is shown through their sudden dissatisfaction with the home that they previously found to be comfortable once they realize that they have not won the lottery. The couple once felt contentment with their life, and now, merely the idea of an extravagant lifestyle has made them long for more.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme of "The Lottery Ticket" by Anton Chekhov?

Anton Chekhov's short story "The Lottery Ticket" follows the brief imaginings of a married couple after they discover that the wife's lottery ticket has a matching series number to the number posted in the paper. What will determine if the wife, Masha, receives the money is if the secondary number matches as well. Rather than immediately look to see if they have the entire winning number, the couple speculates about what they would do with the money. While these daydreams start out pleasantly enough, eventually both the husband and wife start to feel a rising sense of discontent, hatred, and resentment for each other. The husband privately bemoans the fact that his wife has aged and that he could have remarried someone younger, while the wife considers how her husband will likely try to appropriate all of the winnings for himself.

Ultimately, this story deals with the theme of greed and how the desire for material possessions is ultimately what poisons us. From Chekhov's point of view, wealth is the seed of dissatisfaction, and it eventually leads to the unraveling of our gratitude for what we already possess. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme of "The Lottery Ticket" by Anton Chekhov?

To me, the theme of this story is that it is best for people to be content with what they have and not to start dreaming of things that (they think) will be much better than what they have.

The couple in this story were relatively happy with one another.  But then they thought they had won the lottery.  Once they thought this, the husband especially began to have big dreams.  He became dissatisfied with what a moment before had been an acceptable life.

Another way you could look at it is to say that the theme is that you should not let a change in your wealth (or other circumstances) change who you are as a person.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme of "The Lottery Ticket" by Anton Chekhov?

This story conveys the theme that even the idea of having money can make us feel dissatisfied with what we have. Further, money—even the thought of it—can distort our priorities and make us materialistic and selfish.

Ivan Dmitritch begins the story "well satisfied with his lot" as a middle-class man. He has his family and a steady and sufficient income of twelve hundred a year. However, when he and his wife begin to think that she may have won a significant amount of money in the lottery, both he and she immediately start to dream of all the things they would do with the money. Although he "had no faith in lottery luck" and normally would not even have been willing to look up the winning numbers, now the "hopes of possible fortune [are] so sweet, so thrilling!"

The couple cannot help but dream and plan, and they enjoy these moments immensely. There is one more number to check, but Ivan says,

"Wait a little. We have plenty of time to be disappointed. It's on the second line from the top, so the prize is seventy-five thousand. That's not money, but power, capital!

Each considers how it would feel to purchase an estate, to travel internationally, to be well-fed, to watch their children playing happily and without care on this estate, and they are joyful, at least until Ivan begins to think how his wife would "begrudge [him] every farthing" because the lottery ticket was hers and not his. He thinks about how the travel destinations would be up to her, how the spending would be her decision, and that he would be "dependent upon her." He thinks that she'll lock up the money, hiding it from him and giving it away to her relatives of her own that he despises. Now he looks at her "with hatred" rather than a smile, and "she glanced at him too, and also with hatred and anger." She knows that he will try to "grab her winnings" from her.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme of "The Lottery Ticket" by Anton Chekhov?

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.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Can you summarize "The Lottery Ticket" by Anton Chekhov?

“The Lottery Ticket” is a short story by Anton Chekhov about a middle-class couple that believes they have won the lottery. Ivan Dmitritch is skeptical of his wife spending money on lottery tickets and believes she is wasting money on them. However, he agrees to read the winning numbers to her. When he does, the first series of numbers matches, and they get excited before Ivan looks at the last number. They begin to daydream about how they will spend the $75,000 they won. Ivan then realizes that his wife could either abandon him or control him with the money, and he begins to get angry. His wife begins to worry that Ivan will spend all the money—which is, after all, her money. She begins to hate him for desiring her winnings. They argue, and then Ivan realizes the last number doesn’t match. The first four numbers in the series do, but since the last two do not, they win nothing. They are no longer angry at each other as their hope for winning disappears. At the end of the story, Ivan talks about how terrible his life is, and he says he is going to hang himself from a tree outside. The story shows how people’s lives and what’s important to them can quickly change with the sudden onset of wealth.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Can you summarize "The Lottery Ticket" by Anton Chekhov?

Ivan Dmitritch is a middle class man who lives with his family. He is well contented as he sits on the sofa reading the paper. His wife is clearing the dishes. She asks her husband to check the lottery numbers. He asks her what is her number. She tells him it is 9499 26. 

Ivan notices that the first number is indeed 9499. He drops the paper and it falls on his knees. He begins daydreaming about winning the seventy-five thousand. He and his wife both begin daydreaming about what they would do with the money. 

They spend the next few minutes dreaming about a new house and traveling. Both the husband and wife begin making plans for spending the money. 

Both the husband and wife are so excited at the thought of winning all the money. They are smiling and dreaming about what they will do with the money.

Then Ivan begins thinking about the possibility of his wife traveling without him. He begins thinking about her becoming stingy with the money. He begins to hate the idea of her having all that money. 

Likewise, the wife begins thinking that her husband will be after all her money. After all, it is her money. She begins to hate him for desiring all her money. 

Before the couple even knows if they have won, they have already spent the money.

Finally, the husband looks to see if the number is 26. It is not. It is 46. The couple did not win. Immediately, the husband and wife begin to come back down to earth:

Hatred and hope both disappeared at once, and it began immediately to seem to Ivan Dmitritch and his wife that their rooms were dark and small and low-pitched, that the supper they had been eating was not doing them good, but lying heavy on their stomachs, that the evenings were long and wearisome. . . .

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is being satirized in Chekhov's "The Lottery Ticket"?

In "The Lottery Ticket," Chekhov satirizes, among other human foibles, our tendency to project onto others the flaws and negative qualities we are loath to recognize in ourselves.

The fact that the ticket was purchased by Masha, not Ivan, is ironic in that the story is told from a third person limited point of view, namely, Ivan's.  Readers are not privy to Masha's fantasies about what the 75,000 prize could mean to her.  Instead of thinking about the joy and opportunity the money could bring to the marriage, Ivan's reverie takes a dark turn.  Seemingly for the first time he sees Masha as "elderly and plain" and imagines that she would be stingy and unsatisfied with "his" money. If Masha has grown elderly, then he has also, yet he believes he would have access to "light, careless women who live in the present." 

Another irony is that Ivan and Masha are already comfortably middle class, and the post-winning state of being he dreams of, namely, being "well-fed, serene, healthy...warm," is already comfortably within his reach.  He dreams of his children bringing him a garden carrot and radish while he has a vodka, pleasures already within his grasp.  These details support the idea that the stinginess that Ivan projects onto Masha is really his own problem. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is being satirized in Chekhov's "The Lottery Ticket"?

In his short story "The Lottery Ticket," Anton Chekhov satirizes people's inability to maintain their contentment or to generate their own happiness.

With irony, Chekhov begins his story by describing Ivan Dmitritch as being "very well satisfied with his lot." When his wife asks him to check the newspaper for the winning number in the lottery, and he sees that the number matches hers, they hesitate to look for the last two numbers. Instead, they choose to fantasize about what they would do if the money were to become theirs.

To torment and tantalize oneself with hopes of possible fortune is so sweet, so thrilling!

As Dmitritch imagines leisurely long walks, warm baths, visits with neighbors, glasses of vodka, and buying property, he becomes less satisfied and more discontented and even distrustful of what his wife will want to do with their fortune if they do win the lottery. However, she, too, has her own daydreams as she understands what her husband's dreams are. "She knew who would be the first to try to grab her winnings." 

As Dmitritch senses his wife's motives and reflections, he spitefully looks at the last two numbers, and discovers that they do not match. He calls them out, ending their dreams. "Hatred and hope both disappeared at once." Now, instead of hope, they each experience despair, for their fantasies of winning the lottery have caused them to yearn for more and create their own discontentment. Chekhov satirizes the human weakness of being inclined to unhappiness.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Anton Chekhov's "The Lottery Ticket" relate to the real world?

Chekhov's 'The Lottery Ticket' explores all the real world challenges of being a ticket winner. Both Ivan and Masha's paranoid fears are indicative of the kind experienced by individuals suddenly bequeathed with unexpected wealth. Interestingly, the couple hasn't even won the lottery. Yet, the ugliness of their private thoughts gives us a clear indication of how conflict would arise between the two of them if they had won. In his short story, Chekhov paints a convincing portrait of how human greed, selfishness, and suspicion can become the hallmarks of the human experience in the event of an unexpected windfall.

When Ivan and Masha first discuss what their first inclinations would be if they hold the winning ticket, their conversation is mild and friendly. Both seem to agree on the 'right' course of sensible actions to take in the event of such a windfall. However, Chekhov soon lets us in on the private thoughts of his characters. When Ivan admits that he would like to go abroad if they ever came into such money, Masha agrees with him.

However, this is where their thoughts part ways. Ivan starts to think about how bothersome it would really be to go traveling with his wife. He knows that she would never want to spend any amount of money on the kind of pleasures that he would really enjoy. He thinks that she's a real tightwad when it comes to spending money anyway.

Additionally, he would have to put up with her complaining ways, and worse, he would have to be at her beck and call at all times. In other words, Ivan doesn't think his wife would be any fun on a holiday. Eventually, his thoughts turn onto darker avenues. He imagines that Masha would even begrudge him the use of any money she won. He tells himself that her despicable relations would be her first priority, and Masha would leave him to exist on perhaps, a hundred rubles, if he was lucky.

At the same time, Masha is indulging her own negative thoughts about her husband's inadequacies. She thinks Ivan would be the first to grab her winnings if he could. Both soon start to look at the other with fear, suspicion, and hatred. It is evident that the thought of winning brings up every latent distrustful inclination each has towards the other.

Chekhov's short story relates to the real-world consequences on family dynamics after unexpected wealth is suddenly thrust on those who are least prepared for it. Here are a couple of real-world challenges many winners have already experienced:

1)Family dynamics will likely not improve. In fact, it may get worse. Suddenly, relatives and so-called long lost friends will call, expecting favors and special 'loans.' Couples may also quarrel because of irreconcilable differences regarding the way the millions of dollars should be spent. Our glimpse into Ivan and Masha's private thoughts definitely alerts us to the possibility of such tension within the family structure in the event of such a windfall.

2)At the end of the story, Ivan finds himself in a bad mood. His negative thoughts have soured him to the possibility of any happiness in the event of a big win. Suddenly, he finds himself upset at his lot in life, at his wife's housekeeping skills, and at the apparent uselessness of the dinner he just ate.

His displaced anger is telling: in actuality, Ivan is frustrated at the apparent futility of hoping for any win. After all, he would then have to contend with grasping relatives and his own grasping wife. What would be the use of winning if one has to suffer such grief? Here, read about a man who committed suicide despite his best efforts at helping relatives and friends after his lottery win. (Scroll down for the story).

If you go to the links listed below, you can also read about other real-world consequences experienced by actual lottery winners. After reading, you will see that Chekhov's skillful portrayal of Ivan and Masha's thought lives mirror real-world scenarios. Hope this helps!

A treasury of terribly sad stories of lotto winners.

A winner's tale.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How do you relate "The Lottery Ticket" by Anton Chekhov to your life?

This is a great question. 

In this story, Ivan and his wife are at home. Ivan's wife asks him to check the lottery numbers. He realizes that the first four numbers are 9499, which are his. Two numbers left. 

This is where each begins to dream. Traveling, a new house, and more. This is also when they also begin to resent each other. Ivan begins to think about his wife traveling without him. She imagines Ivan trying to take her money. So, even before they know the final numbers, they have dreamed and hated each other. Money has divided them already. 

When the final two numbers do not match, they go back to their normal lives. 

How can I relate this to my own life? We all have dreams. I also actually used to dream about winning the lottery. I, too, would imagine what I would do with the money, but what that would get me is all my friends wanting to leech off me. The worst part was they would try to use me. It was all in my head, but I could become critical and judgmental. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme of Chekhov's "The Lottery Ticket"?

I think that one distinct theme out of Chekhov's short story is how every step towards creation is a step towards destruction.  Ivan and Masha are content living with their conditions before they find out of the potential for their winning ticket. While the prospect of material gain is not in front of them, their unhappiness is not completely manifested.  In the story's exposition, they live an ordinary life.  Ivan is "well satisfied" with his lot in life.  It is at the moment of creation, the moment where the prospect of his lottery ticket winning, where emotional destruction is evident. The weight of expectations, material success, and the potential for transformation within it, that brings about a sense of pain and hurt within the marriage.  

In the act of creation- the prospect of holding the winning lottery ticket- the destructive qualities of envy, want, and coveting of wealth end up revealing an unhealthy dynamic between husband and wife.  This dynamic is one where both view one another with growing skepticism, and the contentment once seen is absent.  It is in this light where the theme of  creation and destruction are seen in the short story.  Within the moments where the winning lottery ticket, Chekhov shows human beings as not inclusive and content with where they are. Rather, it is a moment for pettiness and self- interest to take over, showcasing the potential for destruction within something that might be a force of creation.  In doing so, Chekhov highlights the destructive quality of material acquisition that marks the modern setting, reflective of how each step towards creation contains with it a potential for destruction.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on