The Use of Numbers in The Queen of Spades
The use of numbers, especially the three and to a lesser extent the seven, is of major importance in Alexander Pushkin's The Queen of Spades. The use of three permeates the text in several ways, these being major, minor, and in reference to time. According to Alexandr Slonimsky in an essay written in 1922, "A notion of the grouping of three is dominant..." (429).
In the major details of the story, we find "three fantastic moments" (Slonimsky 429), three cards, three major catastrophes, three main characters, and the use of six chapters, six being a multiple of three. The three fantastic moments are: "the story of Tomsky (Chapter 1), the vision of Hermann (Chapter 5), and the miraculous win (Chapter 6)" (429). These three moments form the backbone of the story. In Tomsky's story, one first reads of the three cards guaranteed to produce a winner at the game of faro. What makes this incident fantastic in relation to the story is the importance of the story to the events that follow when contrasted to the nonchalant attitude attributed to those in attendance. The second fantastic incident is that of the appearance of the dead Countess to Hermann. This incident is fantastic in that the three cards named by the Countess are actually the winning cards, meaning the Countess is an apparition and not simply a dream. The final fantastic incident occurs when Hermann miraculously wins at the faro table the first time. The reader now knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the three are magic cards.
"The particular significance of the three cards is shown in the rhythmic quality of Hermann's thoughts" (Slonimsky 429). In looking at the original text, the rhythmic quality is much more apparent, as can be seen in the following passage:
Chtó esli stãraya grafínya
Otkróet mné svoiu taínu?
íli naznáchit mné
étu tri vérnye kárty?
(Whát if the áged old Cóuntess
shóws me the sécret or
indicates sómehow to
mé those thrée fáithful cards?)
According to Slonimsky, "The theme of the three cards inevitably brings to mind a three stressed speech pattern, sometimes passing into a perfect dactyl" (429). This dactyl can also be seen in the words of the Countess with the three, seven and ace, and in the closing words of the story with Hermann's continuous raving of, "Three, seven ace... three, seven, queen!.." (Pushkin 889).
Each of the cards carries with it a significance. The number three, as stated above, holds a particular significance. In relation to the cards, the three can be found in the three hands Hermann must play to win, the multiple of three in the thirty hands on the table when Hermann makes his entrance for his first card, and also in the nine and three, these two being Hermann's first two cards dealt. The seven plays a significant role as well, both as a card and as an element of the story. The first reference to the seven can be found on...