Alexander Pushkin and Franz Kafka are completely different authors. They wrote in their own styles using dissimilar plots. However, the ideas they have tried to impart to the reader can sometimes be similar or even the same. From the first sight, the narrative novella The Queen of Spades by Pushkin and the short story The Metamorphosis by Kafka have nothing in common. The former is a story about a man, who is eager to know the secret of three winning cards. He wanted to use it to become rich. The Metamorphosis describes the transformation of a man into a bug. His life goal was to provide his family with money and happy life. However, with a deeper understanding of both stories, it becomes clear that their plots have some moments, which are similar and different at the same time. For example, both heroes, Hermann in The Queen of Spades and Gregor in The Metamorphosis have sacrificed their lives, but for different purposes. The former became a victim of his own greed, while the latter paid his life to satisfy the needs of his family. The first aim is miserable, and the second one is estimable.
After observing the plot and the goals of the main characters, it makes sense to analyze the themes of these literary works. Although, the stories are different, and, perhaps, the authors wanted to impart other messages, The Queen of Spades and The Metamorphosis have similarities in their final themes. Actually, the works consist of several main themes, which are equally important, and it is difficult to highlight only one.
The most obvious theme is money. In both cases, it was an influential push to the events of both plots. In The Queen of Spades, Hermann’s eagerness to be rich turned into an obsession. The card secret could bring him to his dream. Even when sleeping, he saw cards, green tables, and of course money only. Hermann was ready to pretend her lover to get a secret from a woman, but decided that being over eighty, she could die soon. Thus, in order to safe some time, he showed that he was in love with the ward of the countess. It was for the purpose to access their house and deserve the trust of this old woman. Hermann was so eager to become rich that he caused the death of the lady and did not feel sorry for that. The only thing he could think was the card secret: “Three, seven, ace,” soon drove out of Hermann’s mind the thought of the dead Countess” (Pushkin 32). Of course, the meeting with her ghost can be an evidence of his conscience. However, this did not stop him from using the card secret in practice. He was so close to his “money dream” as he could only dream, but, at one moment, Hermann lost everything, including his mind. Considering The Metamorphosis, Gregor became a slave of the family’s needs, due to he was the only person, who brought money to the family budget. In such a way, his relatives did not treat him as a human anymore, but as a full wallet because he “earned so much money that he was in a position to bear the expenses of the entire family, expenses which he, in fact, did bear” (Kafka 43). He did not know a normal life with any entertainment unlike his sister who “loved music very much” (Kafka 44). The economic side became the basis of the entire relationships in the family (Sokel 206). They needed Gregor as long as he earned money. After his metamorphosis, he became unwanted. In both stories, money showed its ugly face and ruined lives. The preliminary motives are meaningful in the forming of an attitude to the main characters and their actions, but, in the end, it does not really matter, because the ending is the loss of mind and life.
The striving to get money caused risks in both literary works. It differs depending on the story and its character. As it has been already mentioned, The Queen of Spades represents greed and obsession: “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 world” (Pushkin 32), so Hermann’s risk has its own “face”. He was so blinded with the card secret and possible fortune that he did not even think about the consequences, which might be caused by his actions and wishes. That is why, he risked everything. Also after the meeting with the countess, when she told him the secret, Hermann risked much more when he thought that it would help him to eliminate any risks during the game (Rosen 263). He blindly believed in this secret and did not assume that something could go wrong. The irony in this situation was the fact that for suppressing the risk at the gaming table, Hermann took greater risks by pretending being in love with Lizaveta, who every day “received from him a letter” (Pushkin 21), getting into the house of the countess without permission, and meeting her at the middle of the night. This shows how he changed his position and was ready “to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of winning the superfluous” (Pushkin 16). However, the author shows the reader that risks are always present, even when the assurance is so strong. It is impossible to neutralize it. In the case of Hermann, the risk did not vanish with the new knowledge. It became even bigger, because it faded the alertness away from the courageous gamer. Gregor risked in other way in comparison to Hermann. Exhausting inhuman work was too difficult even for a young and healthy man. He thought that it was a curse with its “problems of travelling, the worries about train connections, irregular bad food, temporary and constantly changing human relationships which never come from the heart” (Kafka 4), but he could not quit. His willingness to satisfy family’s needs made him blinded with his own life and wishes. Every day, he worked a lot. He did not go out and did not even have any friends. His life turned to be the entire process of moneymaking (Rowe 271). Gregor risked his health and life in order to safe his family from other risks: staying without money, not entertaining anymore (considering his sister’s lifestyle), and working (in his opinion, it could be the worst development of events). However, his transformation pushed the members of the family to everything he feared, including working: “his sister had to team up with his mother to do cooking” (Kafka 42). Even now, when he has lost his form and personality, Gregor was not afraid of working. The problem was that he could not anymore. Similar to the theme of money, the problem of risk has a different basis in each story. The purposes were the same, and the result was unhappiness.
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The next theme, which goes through each story and makes them both more similar than it seems at the beginning, is the interrelation between the “normal” and “paranormal”, reality and illusion. The plot of The Queen of Spades does not seem to have any unusual elements except for the death of the countess. At the beginning, the author wants to show simple greed and an unhealthy desire of Hermann. It is not new for an experienced and smart reader. These feelings are often described by writers, poets, and song or scriptwriters. They are also familiar from the everyday life, where everyone meets greedy personalities and can become a witness or even a victim of their actions. Everything in Hermann’s behavior is “normal”, namely lie, meanness, and fearlessness. The mysterious card secret can cause only skeptical comments. However, the death of the old woman changes everything. It is the beginning of the “paranormal”. First of all, it was really impossible for the ghost of countess: “a woman dressed in white” (Pushkin 30) came to Hermann. Do ghosts really exist and can come to living people? If so, would she come to a person, who was guilty in her death? Moreover, would she open such a big secret to this man? Pushkin gives the reader a positive answer. The motive of the ghost is not known. She said that she has “been ordered to grant your request” (Pushkin 30). Another paranormal incident was the episode when Hermann used the card secret strategy in practice. He won once with the first card in the “combination”. For the second time, he succeeded using the second card. It seems to be a miracle, but during the last game, everything becomes clear: the mystery of the card secret, the aim of the countess, and a huge mistake of Hermann. Possibly, the card secret was just a myth, this combination did not mean anything, and, in the Hermann’s case, it was only a coincidence (Rosenshield 998). However, it might be really a significant secret, which could make anyone rich and wealthy, but the old woman told it to Hermann on purpose. She knew that it would not work for such a person as he was. It did not matter whether it was a true story or a hallucination of sick Hermann’s conscience, the queen of spades with the face of the countess broke all his expectations. Analyzing The Metamorphosis, it is entirely “paranormal” with some “normal” moments. The metamorphosis described in the story is an unusual occurrence. People can change because of constant work and lose their health and life, but they cannot become a bug, not in the real life. However, Kafka describes the real “normal” family with their own relationships. The attitude of Gregor’s mother, father, and sister to him before and after the transformation does not surprise the reader. If they did not value him, when he kept the family and was needed, they would not appreciate his affords after he became disabled. Gregor waited for a visitor, but “the door was not opened any more and Gregor waited in vain” (Kafka 35). Nothing unusual, it is just ingratitude and simple human inability to value other people. The “paranormal” transformation in this story is connected with the problem of Gregor’s personal identity. He lost it a long time ago because of living and working entirely for other people. The interaction between the “normal” and “paranormal” in this question is so tight. They are not parallel, but almost the same line. He could not want or dream about anything. He did not have time even to think what he was doing with his life. However, by himself, Gregor thought a lot, and it cleared his vision, although he had denied realizing the sadness of the situation and his position in the family for a long time. The “normal” absence of thoughts made his life “paranormal” existence (Luke). His death was his rescue. Therefore, in The Queen of Spades, “normality” and “paranormality” divide the story into two parts. The Metamorphosis consists of the constant interaction of both.
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All these themes can be summarized into the general one: the unpredictability of human destine. Hermann’s plan was clear: to get a card secret, to become wealthy, and to live a full life. He did not want to kill the woman, due to she would die soon anyway. No one was going to be harmed, except for the countess’s ward, who was the victim of Hermann’s “love”. However, each plan had its weak points. Hermann caused the sudden death of the old woman. It was a verdict that he would never learn the secret. The unexpected meeting with the ghost changed everything. The last important unpredictability was during the final game, when it seemed that he would win (after the previous two winning games). Instead of the ace, he got the queen of spades (Bocharov 318). The dream was ruined, the mind was gone, and Hermann was “now confined in room Number 17 of the Obukhov Hospital” (Pushkin 36). His destiny played its cruel game with a heartless man. As Hermann did not expect his “ending”, Gregor also was not aware of what may happen to him. His family was not ready for such changes as well. Gregor planned a happy life for them: no one would have to work, his sister would study it was his secret plan to send her “next year to the conservatory” (Kafka 44), and everyone would be satisfied. He could not assume that his “ending” would be in the form of a huge bug. The attitude of his family to his personality during all his life, especially after his transformation, was unexpected for Gregor. One day, his sister told their parents that they “must try to get rid of it” (Kafka 84). He did not know before that he would not eat in order to finish his life sooner. At the beginning, it was also unpredictable, but, in the end, the family forgot about one of their members and threw him into the garbage after his death. The difference in the tragic endings of the stories is in who is guilty. Actually, Hermann and Gregor ruined their lives with their own hands, but the main character of The Queen of Spades was ready for everything to have his dirty dream come true and deserved the revenge. Gregor became a victim of circumstances: he was guilty of being forgotten as a living person, but his family was guilty to the same extent. He did not deserve such an attitude. It is a story about a long and slow death (Stephens).
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It is so exciting that such different literary works of these writers have so much in common. These two stories have the same moral: it is important to have a healthy attitude to life and all its privileges.