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This is a complex tale that has spawned a Chaikovsky opera (sometimes know even in English under the French title Pique Dame] and several films. The inclusion of the card game (faro) opens a whole new world of associations. You will find several useful and entertaining  links below, but at the end of the day you must read the story and comment on it. Watch carefully the role of numbers, the city, time, the physical framing of characters (windows, chairs, coffins), coincidence. Is this romanticism or realism (but be sure to define those terms for yourself and your fellow readers)?

Saint Germain

Deck of Cards Song (Text)

The Game of Faro (History) Be sure to play a few hands.

The Opera (Listen)

The Film

The Russian  Пиковая дама.

18 Responses to ““The Queen of Spades””

  1. Russell Jacobs says:

    Today in class “Lolita” came up a few times and I think there’s something pretty potent in the comparison. The question of whether or not “The Queen of Spades” is realist or romantic seems to sort of answer itself, as more than one person above has touched on. It’s both. It’s a story about the line between the two. It’s either all one thing or all the other, sort of, but it’s best qualities are in its ambiguity and the way that ambiguity draws attention to the fact that it is a piece of literature (an argument against realism, if not for romanticism). The whole story seems haunted by little literary reflections about that central question we’ve been asking. In “The Queen of Spades,” the medium that facilitates the coexistence of the two is the cards, and it seems interesting to me that later writers following in Nabokov’s steps will be plagued by the same questions with regard to “reality”‘s relation to physical science and mathematics. After the Belkin stories and “The Queen of Spades,” Pushkin’s short fiction seems like a precursor to Nabokov’s fiction. It is the first instance that I’m aware of (and again, I’m dealing with a context problem here) of the kind of recursive thematic ambiguity that “Lolita” personifies.

  2. Laura Howard says:

    Realism in a story means a lack of chance encounters or missed connections. Without these elements, a story such as “The Queen of Hearts” is realistic in that it is based principally on facts — who went where, with whom, at what time.
    Romanticism, on the other hand, depends principally on the idea of fate, missed encounters, chance encounters, and stars aligning or misaligning to bring one or both members of a couple to a tragic end. The only aspect of “The Queen of Hearts” that could in some way be romantic is the certain mystical quality of the old Countess winking at Hermann from her coffin and the Queen of Hearts winking at him from the card. This, however, does not strike me so much as romanticism as it makes me think of “magic realism”, which I know from a book called Like Water for Chocolate. This is the first mystical-type occurrence I’ve noticed in one of Pushkin’s works.
    Because of its inability to find footing in either realism or romanticism, and only then to bring in a slight mystical quality, the “The Queen of Hearts” is, in my opinion, the least engaging of the stories that we have read. It may be my lack of knowledge or interest in card games — but the characters themselves did not strike me as quite as interesting as some of those in other stories. Hermann, as Anna mentions, does not arouse in the reader any sympathy. Neither does Lizaveta. It is only the old countess, in my opinion, whose personality Pushkin lets us see.

  3. Vanda Gaidamovic says:

    If the natural world, driven by psychological forces, unembellished with imagination is the real world, and if supernatural, the world in which everything is possible, and “emotion triumphs over reason” (Emily) is the romantic one, then Pushkin’s Queen of Spades is the venue in which both, real and romantic realms meet, and Hermann is the one who gets to experience both.
    The gambling scene is depicted in a quite realistic manner, giving generalized portraits of various types of players. Being told the story of Tomsky’s grandmother, the guests divide into romantics – the ones who believe in chance, and realists – the ones who believe in cheating and skeptics, who do not believe in the story of a magical combination of three cards at all. On the other hand, Hermann’s desire to master the mystery of the three cards, and moreover, mystery’s triumph over Hermann is a purely romantic element, most likely inspired by the Gothic romance or the folklore superstitions, or both. Thus, although “two fixed ideas can no more exist together in the moral world than two bodies can occupy one and the same place in the physical word”, the world of Pushkin is the one where obsession, fate and insanity belong to both, the romantic world of emotion, and the real world of reason.

  4. Margaret Fulford says:

    I agree with both Melody and Ben’s conclusions about the mixture of realism and romanticism found in this story. For the purposes of this post and of discussion, I think of realism as rational, logical, tangible/physical/measurable and objective, while romanticism tends towards mysticism and superstition; irrational, incorporeal and subjective. The story seemed to lie on a continuum between these two extremes and steadily moved from one end (realism) to the other (romanticism) as the story progressed and Hermann’s madness began to consume him. This almost has the effect of gradually loosening the reader’s grip on reality in concurrence with the main character. While things seem safe and predictable enough at the start, soon the situation unravels as Hermann goes to increasing lengths to discover the three numbers and make himself rich.
    It is the romantic nature of the story that bears the most weight in terms of message or moral here. Had it been an entirely realistic story, Hermann probably would have lost all his money anyway, but you can be sure that the reader would not get the same message from the tale as they do with Pushkin’s romantic rendition. The heavy use of symbolic numbers, precise timing of events and smattering of questionable apparitions/visions give a sense of impending doom from a higher or unrealistic power. Whether that be fate, divine justice, or mere realistic luck misinterpreted by an unraveling mind is up to the reader to decide.

  5. Brandt Silver-Korn says:

    “The Queen of Spades” cannot be cleanly defined as either romantic or realist because it is a juxtaposition of the two. This juxtaposition ultimately serves to parody the romantic genre, as Ben previously mentioned, by not only constant manipulation of the reader’s anticipations, but continual ironies. For my purposes, I am defining realism as emphasis on what is rational and natural, and romanticism as emphasis on the irrational and supernatural (I realize there are an array of definitions for these two terms, but I believe mine are the most conducive to my argument).

    One either believes in what is romantic or believes in what is real (as per my above definitions). Pushkin emphasizes the choice one must make in this dichotomy with his statement that “Two fixed ideas can no more exist in the moral world than two bodies can occupy one and the same place in the physical world” (21). You either believe in the supernatural or you don’t. You either believe in fate, or not. Pushkin plays with this idea in many ways.

    One example, the Queen of Spades “smiled ironically and winked her eye at [Hermann]” (24). The card is an inanimate object, thus in a rational and natural world, it would not be able to do this. Like Bry points out, the Queen of Spades represents practicality and logicality, and this is where the irony lies (it is not logical for a card to move). This is in addition to the irony of fact that the Queen of Spades also represents good judgment, and the outcome of the story proves that Hermann (who saw this card at the end) was not in good judgment. Also the Queen of Spades represents the Countess, who takes the form of a ghost (another ironic play on the natural v. supernatural).

    Another example…

    As readers, we are constantly barraged with numbers. We are tempted to analyze them for symbolic meaning (as some of us have already done) because Pushkin pressures us to do so. We ask, why would there be so many numbers and so many numerical coincidences if not for conveying a symbol? The only symbolic message they convey to me, though, is how easily we as humans are tempted to assign and believe in supernatural and irrational answers for unexplainable phenomena. Numbers themselves are the epitome of rationality and reason. They govern nature (science, math…). Thus, their power to consume the plot, Hermann, and in turn, the reader, is to me one huge irony.

    What this all boils down to in my mind is a case of Pushkin favoring “real” over “romance”. That the three “winning” cards of life are “economy, temperance, and industry” (9). That believing and following in fate or the supernatural are for sentimentalist and romantic novels, and not for actual human thought. I personally tried to win in the card game and was utterly unsuccessful. Thus, it would seem that Pushkin ultimately uses this to show the stupidity in departing from rational thinking (exemplified through believing you can beat this game in such a lucrative manner).

    Pushikin truly shows his genius in the story. I have confused myself thinking about it. I cannot wait to discuss it tomorrow.

  6. Melody Wang says:

    I very much agree with Ben’s notion of the blurred boundary between realism and romanticism in this story. In the most general sense, the term “realism” is often associated with an accurate depiction in of everyday life or place in certain time period. Often time realism has to do with the writer’s “objective” accuracy in depicting the behavior of the characters. Romanticism, just like realism, cannot be narrowly defined; yet broadly speaking, romanticism tends to emphasize on subjective subjects: the emotional, the improbable, the immaterial, the supernatural, and etc. And in the most reductive sense, one of the biggest differences between realism and romanticism is the emphasis on objective and subjective experiences, respectively. While realist writers have the tendency to focus on objective details and events, the romantic writers is associated with the subjective and improbable details.
    Evidently, The Queen of Spades possesses all of the above qualities. In the opening scene evokes the atmosphere of aristocratic lassitude and extravagance. in the description of, “It was five o’clock in the morning before the company sat down to supper… When the champagne appeared, however, the conversation became more animated” (1), the narrator renders a plausible world by introducing concrete details of the setting of a specific group of people. In Chapter 2, the characterization of the Old Countess and the observance to social etiquette are rendered quite realistic, that is to say, the old Countess’s interaction and experience could occur in real life. I love the description of the old Countess as “hideous but indispensable ornament of the ball-room”. However, Lizaveta is portrayed as a romantic and sentimental heroine in the greatest need for romance: “she was the martyr of the household”, “in society she played the most pitiable role”, “she was a hundred times prettier than” all the other marriageable girls. These qualities certainly evoke a fairy tale character, more specifically, Cinderalla? Then gradually, as the novel proceeds, events and characters start to become supernatural. For example, the death of the Countess bears sinister and supernatural overtones, and certain her winking in the coffin starts to spill into the boundary of fantastic and psychological (romantic) genre. Yet the fantastical events in the story also bear psychological implication, in other words, the Countess’s winking, the ghost of the Countess, the Queen of Spades’ “remarkable resemblance” to the old Countess are events that tend to suspend the readers’ disbelief because these can be the psychological effects of Germann’s calculating paranoia for riches. In short the supernatural tales also bear plausible psychological explanations.

  7. Katherine Burdine says:

    As other students have mentioned, The Queen of Spades is full of significant numbers. The number three is particularly prominent. Events happen in threes; the winning cards are to be played in a series of three, and the old countess’ ghost visits Hermann at a quarter to three. Three is not only an important number in Orthodox Christianity, as it represents the Trinity, it is also a number that indicates the passage of time, the movement from birth through life to death.

    And indeed, the passage of time figures largely in this story. Pushkin tells us the exact hour of many events; when Hermann first hears the Countess’ remarkable story, when Hermann goes to the Countess to press her to reveal her secret, the funeral, the apparition of the Countess to Hermann. The reader never manages to escape the sense of a clock ticking, of the slow but inevitable creep of time.

    The Countess herself might be said to embody the passage of time, living as she does in the past, her history preserved in the memorabilia scattered about her home, and in her memories, while her old, hideous body molders in the present. Her presence lends a heavy sense of mortality to this story, even in the midst of the glittering balls and lively card parties, the reader is always aware of the faint, distinct presence of death.

  8. Alexandra Siega says:

    I agree with the students above me (such as Sarah and Emily) who have reasoned that “The Queen of Spades” is a romantic tale, and have defined romanticism as an idealization or exaggeration of reality. I certainly see the elements of realism portrayed in the story, particularly in the actions and personalities of the minor characters and Hermann’s initial portrayal, yet I feel that there are too many instances that point to romanticism, such as the importance of supernatural events to the plot, to be a story of realism.
    The role of the supernatural in “The Queen of Spades” is closely linked with Hermann’s portrayal as an increasingly romantic character. It provides evidence that Hermann is descending into madness, which Pushkin highlights at the end of the story with Hermann’s admission to the mental hospital.
    Because there is this constant undertone of obsessive, fervent, loss of self after the initial stage of courtship results in an invitation to the Countess’ home, the whole nature of the supernatural events in “The Queen of Spades” is questioned. Is it possible that Hermann’s vision was a hallucination? At the time of the Countess’ funeral, we already see Hermann in a distressed state as a result of his fanatical obsession with the card trick. He sees the Countess’ wink and falls to the floor as if struck by a divine hand and proceeds to drink “contrary to his usual custom,” which only serves to “excite his imagination” even more. (20) Pushkin establishes that Hermann is obviously not well at the time of his vision, which occurs after the Countess visits him immediately after he wakes up from his strange slumber.
    The account of Hermann’s vision contains many inconsistencies. The Countess is described as having both ghostly and human characteristics, and the reader becomes confused as to the nature of Hermann’s visitor. We are initially introduced to the wraith as she is framed by a window: an obvious parallel to Hermann’s position in front of Lizaveta’s window during his false courting process. Then, the narrator recounts the gait of the ghost, which is where the first inconsistency occurs. At first, Hermann hears her “walking softly over the floor in slippers.” (20) Then, as she appears, she glides rapidly over to him, tells him the secret and makes her demand, and then departs with a “shuffling gait” towards the door. (21) The walking and shuffling depict a wholly human character, yet the use of the word “gliding” is indicative of the movement of a spirit. (A side note: The word may be unique to the translation and was not used in the actual Russian, but after attempting to read the Russian, I believe the word is скользнув, which is something along the lines of “slipping.”) Pushkin also uses other popular features of a ghost to describe the Countess: the white dress, for example. Furthermore, the Countess may have the ability to float through doors. Though she opens the door to Hermann’s room and is also heard opening and shutting the street-door, the street-door remains mysteriously locked.
    The inconsistencies suggest that perhaps Hermann hallucinated the event. Of course, if the event only occurred in Hermann’s mind, then the obvious question of how Hermann discovers the secret of the three cards is raised. However, the mysterious nature of the event amplifies Hermann’s depiction as a romantic character, for he has lost his grip on reality.

  9. Bryanna Kleber says:

    I think that “The Queen of Spades” is the first story in which we can see Pushkin’s genius.

    “Two fixed ideas can no more exist in the moral world than two bodies can occupy one and the same place in the physical world.” (21) On the third night, Hermann had two pressing thoughts in his head: the Countess and the last winning card, the ace. According to this quote, the ideas could not remain separate in Hermann’s mind. They will overlap. Pushkin writes that “3, 7, ace” drove the thought of the Countess out of his mind, but it clearly remained in his subconscious, because he accidentally chose the Queen instead of the ace he intended to choose. If the Countess’ ghost was not real, and she never actually told Hermann the winning numbers, does that mean he had these numbers in his mind all along, and the illusion of the ghost prompted them to surface?

    There is a definite omnipresent or supernatural figure in this story. Pushkin included supernatural aspects is his other stories, specifically, “The Snowstorm,” but here he makes it so obvious. The Countess is commanded by someone/something to grant Hermann’s request, there is a ghost, a winking playing card, and a winking dead person.

    I also tracked the numbers and the only thing I can add about the numbers that hasn’t been mentioned is that often with the number 3, the 3rd time is the “anti-charm.” The 3rd card is wrong, the 3rd time Hermann looses, and the 3rd person who uses the card trick fails.

    You should all read what this book says about the Queen of Spades! Crazy!


  10. Flora Weeks says:

    Hermann is for me the hardest character to classify as either romantic or realistic. Juan wrote about this in detail, and I think he made a number of good points. I agree that it depends in large part on how you define realism. I also think Pushkin, in a way, leads the reader into believing that Hermann is a romantic character, when really he is not. Although the reader is never let into Hermann’s thoughts and emotions, Pushkin writes about his actions in a way that could easily lead the reader to believe he will be fleshed out into a romantic character in the story. One clear example of this is in his love letters to Lizaveta, which are described as being written “under the inspiration of passion, and spoke in his own language, and they bore full testimony to the inflexibility of his desire” (11). Then as Hermann and Lizaveta’s rendezvous approaches, it is clear that Hermann is anxious for this time to arrive. Later we find out that he had other plans to make him anxious, but in the first reading his eagerness for the decided on time to arrive is taken as evidence of his love; “He remained standing under a lamp, his eyes fixed upon the watch, impatiently waiting for the remaining minutes to pass” (12). At this point in the story, he could easily be perceived as a romantic character. However, from this point on, his actions move swiftly away from this characterization.

    That said it is difficult for me to consider him (or this story) as realism. My hesitation is partly due to the lack of knowledge into Hermann’s thoughts, but also his seemingly harsh and premeditated assault on the countess, and sudden indifference toward Lizaveta. In addition, the sudden death of the countess and everyone’s obsessive belief in her card predicting powers make it impossible for me to classify the story as realism.

  11. Emily de Koning says:

    Romanticism is, in the simple possible sense, the triumph of emotion over reason. Romantic works are meant to reflect the ecstasies and agonies of the human soul. As a style it expresses the desire to escape reality into a word of imagination and dreams.

    The transition of Hermann from a reasonable young man, who considers “calculation, moderation and industry” as the true winning threesome, into an obsessed madman, expresses in the clearest sense the victory of emotions.

    The role of fate in this short story can also be considered as an element of romanticism. As you may recall, in the game of faro the card to the left is the winning card while that to the right is the losing card. Hermann, in the third chapter, chooses the door that leads to the study to wait for the countess rather than he one that leads to Liza’s room “the one to the right leads to a study” by choosing the right door he choose his demise. His fate, in that instant, is sealed.

    Realism on the other hand is a desire to depict reality as it is, without embellishment or idealism. It is a reaffirmation of the scientific method, of the pursuit of objectivity, of universal truths.

    Though I agree with the others that there are some elements of the realism genre there is, in this work, a much stronger inclination towards the romantic genre.

  12. Benjamin Kingstone says:

    To the casual reader, “The Queen of Spades” presents itself as a romantic tale. Elizaveta reminded me of Madame Bovary, an artistic creation of a writer who also complicated the lines between realism and romanticism.
    If romanticism is viewed as an exaggeration of realism—and in conflict with ration—than this story fits this genre. Pushkin idealizes Lizaveta’s relationship with Hermann. As others have noted, they are archetypes of characters: she is a swooning maiden and he (as mentioned twice) a Napoleon. Pushkin’s organization of their emotions resembles an instruction manual: Hermann’s “boldness alarmed her” and his mind was “occupied with intrigue” (12). Elizaveta seeks distraction and Hermann has no serious reason to suddenly become concerned about money (he does not deal with uncertainties). Not only do their emotions and circumstances appear artificial, Hermann’s vision of the Countess is impossibly unrealistic. It is the romantic invention of a desperate mind.
    Here, however, Pushkin’s subversion of the romantic genre becomes obvious. This story is a realist’s statement about romanticism. In this narrative, the anticipations and expectations do not connect. Pushkin denies the reader the satisfaction of a romantic dénouement. The failure of Hermann’s scheme—itself the illusory chase of a (for some reason) desperate character—lies in its unreality. Pushkin demonstrates the impossibility of people’s imaginations to exceed their situations. This is a parody of the genre, a “cautionary tale” (as Anna noted). Pushkin criticizes the quest for material wealth and unsustainable emotions in a time plagued by these representations of Romanticism.

  13. Kelsey says:

    “The Queen of Spades” seems to me to be a realistic tale masquerading as a romantic one, ending with a shot of moralism. By realistic, I mean Pushkin had something to say, he wasn’t simply trying to entertain. By romantic I’m referring to everything that makes this story impossible, supernatural, exaggerated, and stereotypical. The magic card trick that will win everything, the fake wooing and dramatic wooing of Lizaveta by Hermann, the ghost countess returning, the winking corpse, the ace turned smiling queen of spades- all of these are plot elements exaggerated and predictable, typical of a romantic story.

    But Pushkin also judges all of his characters rather harshly- the countess is “avaricious and egotistical”, “hideous and deformed”; Lizaveta is an emotional “young dreamer” who cries a lot; Hermann is ambitious and hardened, obsessed with money. All are deemed pathetic characters in some way, despite being beautiful, rich, or ambitious. This is one of the elements that makes it a realistic tale as well as a romantic one. Pushkin has something to say about faro and gambling, it seems; the ultimate insanity of a gambler who sought magic way to win his fortune in a game of chance certainly seems like moralism. Hermann is an exaggeration of those gamblers (or even lottery players today) who are addicted to the hope that the tiny chance of winning a jackpot will make them rich and happy for the rest of their lives. Hermann pins his hopes on an insensible chance of winning- a chance determined by a supernatural being who has no reason to like him. For all that it is obviously unrealistic, I think this tale is based in realism with overtones of tragic-romaticism.

  14. Anna Mackey says:

    I agree with the previous students that Pushkin incorporates elements of romanticism and realism into “The Queen of Spades”. The use of superstition, reoccurring numbers, coincidence, and fate all fit into a more romanticized and unrealistic plot, but other elements of the story, such as the final overview of the different character’s lives at the end of story, brings the reader and the tale itself back down to earth.

    One of the aspects I found most interesting in “The Queen of Spades” was how Pushkin shaped his three main characters – the Countess, Lizaveta, and Hermann. First, the reader feels no affection for the Countess. She is illustrated time and time again as rude, impatient, and selfish. Lizaveta, on the other hand, is somewhat of a foil for the Countess. She’s young, beautiful, and tolerant, but overlooked (just as she is by others in the story) and used merely as a plot device. Finally, the audience understands and can most likely relate to Hermann’s want for monetary comfort and his desire to know the Countess’ secret, but his heartlessness, lack of remorse, and complete selfishness leave the reader unsympathetic to his cause as well. Because of this, “The Queen of Spades” had the only ending out of all the Pushkin stories we have read that actually seemed expected. Perhaps Pushkin was just leading us all along – intentionally setting up two opposing sides both of which lack the sympathy of the reader, while simultaneously drawing us in by our own selfish desires to want to know the secret. The ending also reminded me of a cautionary tale, imploring the reader to look for the greater meaning. I’m interested to see what we learn.

  15. Romany Redman says:

    On one hand, the bare-bones style and clear-cut images that Pushkin uses to describe the characters and outline the events of the story create an ambiance of objective realism, observing the action from afar. The circumstances where the language deviates from this realistic tone occur when the narrator explains the emotions and visions of Hermann, once Hermann is already either drunk or crazy. On the other hand, the events themselves inspire a mysterious questioning of fate and coincidence. While the metaphysical aspects story remind us of Shelley and Byron, the realist style of the story even further contrasts the absurdities of the events. One example of this is the final section, which calmly lists the subsequent activities of various characters, some minor, such as Tomsky, and some entirely inconsequential, like Lizaveta’s sickly relative. The reader begins to question themselves. Was it really coincidence that the last card was the queen? Are we reading into the turn of events with hints of superstition, or does life really proceed with these twists of fate?

    The ‘real’ Countess died when Hermann pulled out the gun. One key indication that the Countess, who divulged the identities of the three winning cards, was simply drunken vision is that she glided rapidly across the room. She is previously described as requiring the assistance of two footmen or three maids in order to move at all. Hermann himself witnessed the countess’ deformities of old age. Hermann’s obsession with finding out the winning cards combined with his guilt at the death of the countess caused him to become insane. Pushkin includes a description of another woman of the same age at the funeral which could have subconsciously contributed to Hermann’s vision of the Countess in white.

    Even if the reader suspends belief in fate or magic, the insanity explanation of the events of the story still reflects the romanticism of the work, as it challenges rationality and predictability of life. If anything, the pseudo-realist style serves to make the romanticism of the Queen of Spades more salient.

  16. Sarah Bellingham says:

    What is romanticism? For now, let’s define it as literature that contains idealizations, hyperboles, and metaphoric significance. In romanticism, we see an emphasis on the plot of the story. On the other hand, realism is not idealized, exaggerated, or metaphoric (it is realistic), and the emphasis is placed on the characters in the story. Pushkin’s “The Queen of Spades” is an example of Russian romanticism.

    Lizaveta Ivanovna is an example of both idealization and hyperbole. She is a kind, giving, and hardworking woman. She is poor in both senses of the word. This is a character who truly could be related to the heroine in “Poor Liza”. She was “the martyr of the household”, “everybody knew her”, and she was “a hundred times prettier than the bare-faced and cold-hearted marriageable girls” (7). In Lizaveta, we see a romantic character whose goal is to move along a plot.

    The metaphoric significance in this short story can be seen in many places, but the most noticeable example by far is the use of numbers. Three and seven occur throughout the story. Each has religious significance in the Orthodox faith, with three manifesting itself in the trinity and seven being seen in the seven days of creation. The number three appears in the three faro cards that the Old Countess plays (3), in the exclamations of the three guests (3), in the three maids serving the countess (4), in Hermann’s “three winning cards” of “economy, temperance and industry” (9), in the “three crimes” on Hermann’s conscious (16), in the three cards that the Countess tells Hermann to play in his dream (16), in the three conditions the Countess gives Hermann (21), and in the three games and cards that Hermann plays in reality. The number seven is seen when the narrator speaks of the Countesses seventy year-old fashion sense (4), when the narrator speaks of the Countess being eighty-seven years old (16), and also in the number of rubles that Hermann gambles (22). These two numbers are particularly important as the first two cards that Hermann is told to play. After these cards, Hermann plays an ace, just as he was told. The ace is the highest card—Christ-like, or god-like, in its transcendence of the other cards. However, the card that Hermann thought was an ace was really the queen of spades—the card that will lose you your game and your money. This situation is symbolic of triumph over evil and crime and greed not paying.

  17. Rouan Yao says:

    Out of all the stories which Pushkin writes, the Queen of Spades seems to be the most intriguing in terms of connections, symbolism, and use of language.

    Although the use of numbers in the story can be misinterpreted an overanalyzed at times, Pushkin seems to stress the importance of 3, 7, and 1 (the Ace). Throughout the story, it iterated and reiterated that the Countess was now the sole living bearer of the great secret to the three cards. Tomsky mad mentioned of Hermann that “it is said he has at least three crimes on his conscience” (Pushkin). Events occur in succession, three days apart. Finally, Pushkin divides the story into seven separate sections.

    The foremost use of symbolism, however, is the Queen of Spades herself. Pushkin makes many allusions of the old Countess to the Queen of Spades. During the Countess’ funeral, when Hermann goes up to the coffin and looks in, he immediately perceives that “the dead woman darted a mocking look at him and winked her eye” (Puskin). Afterward, when Hermann finally discovers that his queen of spades has lost him everything, “it seemed to him that the queen of spades opened and closed her eye, and mocked him with a smile. He was struck by an extraordinary resemblance…” (Pushkin).

    While I don’t believe that this particular story belongs in either the category of romanticism or realism, I believe it contains heavy elements of both. While romanticism embraces dramaticism and idealistic renderings of events, realism works to incorporate ‘life as it is’. Liza’s tragic past, as well has Hermann’s descent into madness all seem to be indicative of a romantic rendering on the story. However, the fact that Hermann’s plan ultimately fails him and the fact that he deceived the young woman in an attempt to get rich follow the lines of a realism piece. Pushkin also includes the supernatural in this story, with the Countess’ ghost appearing, and what seems to be the hand of Fate, which governs the actions of the characters throughout the story.

  18. Juan Machado says:

    I’d like to consider the question of whether Pushkin portrays the character of Hermann realistically or not. I’ll offer two definitions for “realism,” although I realize both are simplistic and inadequate to a degree.

    If “realism” in a character is defined as a portrayal that is psychologically accurate and complex, then Hermann is not a realistic character. The text does not provide the reader with a detail explanation of Hermann’s thought process; his character does not seem fully developed. Hermann is almost more of an allegorical element; the confluence, as Naroumoff describes it, of Napoleon’s looks and Mephistopheles’ genius.

    If, on the other hand, “realism” is defined as a psychological portrayal that the reader is able to relate to, then I do believe Hermann is portrayed realistically. He is not religious, for example, but feels the need to attend the Countess’ funeral because he is taken by the superstitious belief that she “might exercise an evil influence on his life” (19). While Hermann’s reaction may seem irrational, it is still human, and a reader will find it plausible and relatable. The same can be said for Hermann’s inclination for obsessions. Hermann’s preoccupation with the dead Countess is immediately replaced by an obsession with the “three, seven, ace” because “two fixed ideas can no more exist together in the moral world than two bodies can occupy one and the same place in the physical word” (21). While the nature of the human mind is here simplified—humans are not solely motivated by a single thought at a time—Hermann’s obsession is something familiar to the reader.

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