The Bet (short story)
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (November 2013)|
"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.
As the story opens, the banker is recalling the occasion of the bet fifteen years before. Guests at a 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. 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 for the fleeting things they are and realizes that knowledge is more powerful than money because it is something that cannot be taken away from him. Therefore, to demonstrate his contempt, he intends to leave confinement five minutes prior to when the bet would be up, thus losing the bet and unwittingly saving his own life.