Avarice—i.e. extreme greed—is the story's predominant theme. Though Hermann has always been risk-averse, the possibility of discovering a sure-fire way to win at faro causes avarice to take over his humanity and sanity. It is Hermann's drive for material gain that pushes him to mislead Liza, intimidate the Countess (causing her death), and ultimately to wind up in a mental hospital.
From the beginning of the story, Pushkin emphasizes Hermann's obsessive nature. Though he never gambles, he watches games through the night. Once he learns that the Countess knows the secret to winning, Hermann becomes obsessed with finding it out, slowly ingratiating himself with Liza. After the Countess's death, Hermann becomes obsessed with the idea that her spirit will cause a negative influence on his life. By the end of the story, his obsession overtakes his rational mind, and he repeats the losing sequence of cards endlessly.
Early in "The Queen of Spades," the narrative has a story within a story told by Tomsky—a story of which Hermann believes every word. Later, when introduced to Liza, the reader learns that she views her flirtation with Hermann as though it is a story from a romance novel. However, the story she tells herself differs greatly from the story Hermann tells himself—one of imminent riches that quickly devolves into a ghost story. By contrasting these different types of storytelling, Pushkin emphasizes the power of the narratives we tell others and ourselves.
Reality vs. The Supernatural
Pushkin incorporates elements of the supernatural into what is otherwise a realist story. The Countess's dead face winking, her ghostly visitation, and the queen of spades winking at Hermann cause the reader to question whether Hermann has gone insane or stepped into a reality in which these paranormal occurrences are possible. Ultimately, the story doesn't resolve whether these things are really happening or if Hermann is merely imagining them.
The Queen of Spades Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Queen of Spades is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.