In 2014, American Hustle topped the box office charts and was celebrated by critics alike. The film praised con artists and even portrayed them as light-hearted, “comedic figures” (Surowiecki). Americans condemn rapists and murders, yet we idolize con artists and often strive to achieve the most out of life with the least amount of work. People are constantly looking for shortcuts and quick solutions, making us bait to the cons of our society. The premise of the film is the idea that people are always self-interested and will believe what they want to believe. This idea is hardly new to literature and films. In Alexander Pushkin’s Romantic era fiction novel, The Queen of Spades, “Everyone is out for what he or she can get” (Sarah Lawall 801) and many of the characters fall victim to scams.
The Queen of Spades is centered on high-stake card games. The meaning of the games can be taken both literally and figuratively. “Card games have been seen traditionally as metaphors for life, where fate decides the outcome” (Pavliscak). The story focuses on Hermann, a Russian officer. A frugal and cautious man, Hermann spends his night observing card games from afar rather than actually participating in them. He learns of an elder countess that knows of a series of cards played in sequence that always guarantees success. Hermann becomes obsessed with discovering the secret. He attempts to seduce Elizaveta Ivanovna, the poverty-stricken dependent of the Countess, to unravel the card mystery. Hermann sneaks into the Countess’s household, under the pretense of meeting with Elizaveta. He, instead enters the Countess’s bedroom and frightens her to death in an attempt to learn the card secret. Later, Hermann is haunted by the Countess’s ghost and she reveals the card sequence to be played is 3, 7, Queen of Spades. He plays the series of cards and bets his entire fortune. Hermann loses and imagines the queen of spades winking at him. He goes insane and spends the rest of his life in an asylum.
In Pushkin’s story, the symbolic and realistic levels are intertwined, so that, in the end, Hermann loses at cards and at life. According to fortune-telling books at the time, the queen of spades signified an old, evil woman. The countess and Hermann, then, are joined by means of cards and the theme of the incomprehensibility of their characters (Pavliscak).
Pushkin conveys his message that individuals will allow themselves to be taken advantage of for the sake of achieving their goals, through instances of irony. In the beginning of The Queen of Spades, Hermann is a prudent and rational man. As the story develops, Hermann’s thoughts become increasingly irrational and obsessive. His greed for wealth and power transform him into an entirely different person; he gambles on high-stakes and goes completely mad. Hermann suffers the consequences of his self-serving ways.
Elizaveta Ivanovna, the Countess’s poor relative, slowly gives in to Hermann’s advances hoping he will help...