The Bet (short story)

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"The Bet" is an 1889 short story by Anton Chekhov about a banker and a young lawyer who make a bet with each other about whether the death penalty is better or worse than life in prison. The story has a twist ending.

About the author[edit]

Chekhov is one of Russia's many important literary figures and one of the greatest playwrights of modern times. He won the Puskin Prize and is known for his short stories and plays often combining elements of both comedy and tragedy. Chekhov was quoted saying that medicine was his lawful wife and literature was his mistress.[1][2]

Plot[edit]

As the story opens, the banker is recalling the occasion of the bet fifteen years before. Guests at the party that he was hosting that day fell into a discussion of capital punishment; the banker argued that capital punishment is more humane than life imprisonment, while the young lawyer disagreed, insisting that he would choose life in prison rather than death. They agree to a bet of two million rubles that the lawyer cannot spend fifteen years in solitary confinement. The bet was on, and the lawyer cast himself into isolation for fifteen years.

The man spends his time in confinement reading books, writing, playing piano, studying, drinking wine, and educating himself. We find him continuously growing throughout the story. We see various phases in his term of imprisonment over the years. At first, the lawyer suffered from severe loneliness and depression. But soon began studying vigorously. He begins with languages and other related subjects. Then, a mix of science, literature, philosophy and other seemingly random subjects. He ends up reading some six hundred volumes in the course of four years. Then, the Gospel followed by theology and histories of religion. In the final two years, the imprisoned lawyer read immensely on chemistry, medicine and philosophy, and sometimes works of Byron or Shakespeare.

In the meantime, the banker's fortune declines and he realizes that if he loses, paying off the bet will leave him bankrupt.

The day before the fifteen-year period concludes, the banker resolves to kill the lawyer so as to not owe him the money. However, the banker finds a note written by the lawyer. The note declares that in his time in confinement he has learned to despise material goods as fleeting things and he believes that knowledge is worth more than money. To this end he elects to renounce the reward of the bet. The banker was moved and shocked to his bones after reading the note, kisses the strange man on the head and leaves the lodge weeping, relieved not to have to kill anyone. The prison warden later reports that the lawyer has left the guest house, thus losing the bet and unwittingly saving his own life.

The lawyer[edit]

The lawyer is seen to be persistent, intelligent and self-motivating. He is persistent because he didn't break down during the 15 years of isolation. He is intelligent by the virtue of reading so many books, which reflects in his eagerness to associate with other men, rather than claiming the final prize. The lawyer's character is very dynamic he starts as a young, impatient person, ready to spend 15 best years of his life for 2 million. His imprisonment changes his life positively: he reads books, ponders over scriptures, learns languages and plays piano. The substance of his character is reflected when he renounces the 2 million and settles with just having proved his point.

The banker[edit]

The banker likes to be in a position of authority and likes to wield power over others, especially those who happen to disagree with him. The character changes drastically from the beginning of the story when he seems to be very free handed as he easily bets to pay two million and later, his lack of wealth drives him to dishonesty and plan for murder. This also signifies the weak character of the banker. He is very attached to the materialistic luxuries of life and values human life less than his luxuries as he plans on killing the lawyer. He plans on killing the lawyer for money and nothing but money changes his mind.

External links[edit]


References[edit]

  1. ^ N. Williams. "Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress". Occmed.oxfordjournals.org. Retrieved 2014-05-14. 
  2. ^ "Letters of Anton Chekhov to His Family and Friends by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov - Free Ebook". Gutenberg.org. 2004-09-01. Retrieved 2014-05-14.