The Bet by Anton Chekhov, Literary Essay Sample

Published: 2022-07-18
The Bet by Anton Chekhov, Literary Essay Sample
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  World literature
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1863 words
16 min read

The story The Bet by Chekhov describes a discussion taking place between a privileged and older banker engaging in a lively talk. The main topic of discussion is the death penalty and the imprisonment for life. It is noticed that the older man tends to be loud and rowdy. The young man accompanying him in the discussion is observed to be listening and then soon also engages himself in the argument with the boisterous old man. The young man puts his argument that being put into jail for life would be better than if one is subjected to death even though all the two actions are depriving an individual of his life and that this would be a quite immoral action. Then, being a man who feels full of himself, the old man makes a bold bet. He goes ahead to promise that he would give the young man dollar worth two million if only the young man could be in solitary confinement for even five years. Unfortunately, on his side, the young man accepts the bet (Chekhov, 2018).

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This should be noted as a situation that the banker was recalling and had taken place fifteen years ago. This was at a time when he was hosting the guest at a party that he had organized and then they engaged in a discussion about this topic of capital punishment. Like I had stated above, the banker kept arguing that capital punishment was a lesser punishment as compared to life imprisonment. The young man always disagreed with his sentiments by insisting that he would live in prison than being subjected to a capital punishment that could lead to even the death of a person. They agreed to a bet of several rules that the young man cannot be able to spend those fifteen years in solitary confinement. This is why the young lawyer took the bet and went to prison for the stated fifteen years in solitary confinement. At this point, the bet was on (Chekhov, 2016). While serving the fifteen years solitary confinement, the young man kept on reading books, playing the piano, studying, drinking wine, as well as educating himself. The man kept on growing as the story build up, various phases of his jail term are observed over the years. Initially, it should be admitted like it is stated that the young lawyer suffered from severe loneliness as well as depression. To counter this, he began to study vigorously so that he could not feel the effects of loneliness. Firstly, he started studying languages and then proceeded to study other subjects like literature, philosophy among other vital areas (Corrigan, 2011).

While at the confinement, the young man ended up reading almost more than six hundred volumes in four years only. After studying these books, he embarked in a thorough reading of gospel books followed by theologies and histories of the religion. In his final two years, the young imprisoned lawyer reversed to the immense study of chemistry, philosophy, medicines and even at times read works of Shakespeare and those of Byron. As time went by, and the fifteen years counted, the fortune of the banker dwindled and declined. He then realizes that if he loses the bet, paying off the bet amount of two million rubles would automatically leave him bankrupt. Just a day before the fifteen year period could elapse; the banker decides to kill the lawyer so as not to pay him the money he had placed in the bet because he had possibly lost the bet (Beliavsky, 2007). From the story, it is informed that, while the old man banker was on his way to the prison to carry out the killing, he comes across a note that had been written by the lawyer. In the note, the young lawyer informs the banker that during his time at the confinement, he had studied to look down upon material goods as passing things and that he believed that knowledge will always be worth more than what money can get to anyone. At this point, the young lawyer renounces the bet reward and he therefore no longer needs the money. This shocked and moved the banker to his kneel because he valued the worldly materials. After going through the whole note, he kissed the strange man on the head because of happiness then he left the lodge weeping, regretting his idea of wanting to kill the young lawyer. He further apologizes in his heart and feels like it is not necessary to kill anyone because of material things. Unfortunately, the warden of the prison later reports that had left the guest house hence loses the bet. The banker then takes the note and locks it in his safe.

It is equally important to state that this story The Bet has got several relevant modern themes that should be considered because they have come part of the today's living. Some of the themes that are realized while going through the story include the following.

The theme of knowledge and wisdom

Firstly, it is interesting to note that the final twist in this story is anchored on the fact that the young lawyer took all the fundamental knowledge that he obtained from the many readings he had made from different books he read while in prison and converted all his wit into some understanding wisdom. This is to say that the information that he got from the readings, which are treated as second hand is pretty much the same as lived experience, so he was there and did all the things he had wanted to do. It is though revealed that the young lawyer is not done with his mission. He also depends on the experience version that he had obtained to decide the action he took. As much as this theme is quite outstanding, there is something else that remains unsolved in this dramatic transformation of events. This is the question of whether or not the person who is going through this work can buy the ideas mentioned. It is hanging on the balance as to whether it is about solitary confinement or merely about capital punishment.

Additionally, another theme that is revealed in the story is the theme of life, consciousness and existence. It is evident that the story tests the convictions of the young lawyer who argues that being exposed to any life would be better than if there was no life at all. He confirms this to the banker. He was subjected to almost fifteen years of abnormal human existence, where he was confined in a room where there was nothing but only books as his company. From The Bet, we realize that the lawyer is dispossessed one of the significant standard makers of humanity, and that is being denied to be part of the community of other human beings but simply kept in solitary confinement (Sabin, 2013). As time moved, the young and reasonable lawyer is made to reject the remaining of his existence as a human being as well. At the time when he forfeits victory in the bet they placed with the banker for a life of spirituality, the bet story seems to point to the fact that without good interaction with others, there is no possibility of humanity surviving. As the story concludes, the readers are obliged to answer some tough questions to answer. As readers of the story, we would like to know more about what is going to happen to the lawyer when the story is ending especially considering the decision he had taken to forgo the bet. At the same time, we are left wondering what the profound thought of the banker is regarding the decision that ought to be taken. Should people be left to rot in the jail slowly or killed merely at once by the killers or executioners?

Another critical theme talked about in the story is the theme of sacrifice (Corrigan, 2011). When the people in the party engaged in the discussion and one member puts it that any government that cannot take back lives of the people should not claim the right to deny them or take it away from them, sacrifice as a theme is revealed at this point. It is laudable to stake that as the story continued, sacrifice turned out to be one of the driving themes in the story. The banker observes the actions of the lawyer as making the sacrifice. This is also observed when the young lawyer described his reaction to the voluntary imprisonment that he served. In addition to this, the lawyer decides to throw his life away in prison, thereby sacrificing his connection with the rest of humanity in a bid to find other levels of human existence (Sabin, 2013). At this point though, the story leaves the readers perplexed as the story does not answer the question as to whether the young lawyer succeeds or not. The fact that the lawyer took the bet was a show that sacrifice can be made and that everything is possible to happen. He even goes ahead to raise the jail term from five to fifteen years to show to the banker that he was ready to take any life course whatever the circumstances. From this, it is evident that he was not interested in the money from the banker because, in any case, he would have asked for more money.

Isolation is another theme that is observed in this story. As much as much of it is not talked about, there are issues of solitary confinement which bring out the theme of isolation as there cannot be solitary confinement without isolation. Even though the lawyer had only books as his company in the prison rooms, these are material things and the fact remains that he was denied the necessary human contact.

Lastly, a theme of the competition is also observed in the story, The Bet. By introducing the story as a betting action, it ends up as a contest between the two men initially involved. Everything in this story talks about betting which is a competition (Chekhov, 2016). However, at the end of the story, we are left wondering whether anyone between the lawyer and the banker won the bet or who lost. We also do not quite understand if it is the competition between these two people regarding the bet is what motivated their overall actions throughout the story.

In my view, it is important to note while concluding, that the story of The Bet tells the readers an essential message that people are in a terrible need for in these modern days. The richness is not about having money that is not calculated for and that the real richness is by acquiring the right knowledge and science that can enable one to feel like the owner of the world.

Works Cited

Chekhov, Anton. The Bet. Sovereign via Publish Drive, 2018.

Sabin, Paul. "The bet." Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Fu (2013).

Corrigan, Yuri. "Chekhov and the Divided Self." The Russian Review 70.2 (2011): 272-287.

Chekhov, Anton. The Major Plays. Penguin, 2006.

Beliavsky, Ninah. "Discover the unknown Chekhov in your ESL classroom." Journal of Aesthetic Education 41.4 (2007): 101-109.

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