The Bet (short Story)

"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. Therefore, to demonstrate his contempt, he intends to leave confinement five hours prior to when the bet would be up, thus losing the bet and unwittingly saving his own life.


"The Bet" emphasizes the idea that the life of a human is far more valuable than money. In the short story "The Bet" a wager is made that changes the lives of two people. The story begins with an argument at a party over which is more moral, capital punishment or life imprisonment. The banker believes that capital punishment is more moral because the death sentence kills the victim quicker rather than dragging out the process. The lawyer at the party responds, saying, he would choose the life sentence to be more moral because any life is better than no life at all. Hearing this response causes the banker to bet the lawyer two million dollars that the lawyer cannot last five years in solitary confinement. The lawyer accepts the wager, but pushes it to fifteen years in hopes of making a point. The terms of the wager are that the lawyer is to live in solitary confinement without any human interaction for fifteen years, but is granted any books, music, wine, or anything that he wants. As the fifteen years pass, the lawyer discovers the significance of human life. "The Bet" emphasizes the idea that the life of a human is far more valuable than money.

Materialism had blinded the lawyer to such an extent that he sacrificed his freedom and youth just to claim a sum of two millions at the end of his self imposed fifteen year term in confinement. It was during this course of time that he realised that knowledge was true wealth. So he embarked on a journey to enlighten himself. He read voraciously and became a man of letters. He also renounced his claim over his "prize money", which drives home the point that knowledge is the light which dispels the pall of greed and materiality. On the other hand the banker after having lost a fortune on the stock exchange was prepared to murder the lawyer in cold blood to save himself from paying up the two millions to him-this tells us that money drives man to commit the most henious of all crimes. The author also touches upon dark subjects like lonliness and death. What lonliness can do to a person is clearly visible in this extract"....seeing his emaciated aged-looking face, no one would have believed that he was only forty". Moreover the lawyer did not find pleasure in the best quality wine, because he did not have company. This signifies that in the absence of fellowmen, world's greatest luxury seems worthless. The author also emphasises on the need to keep one's head above the shoulders while taking major decisions and not be swayed away in a fit of excitement, otherwise one may land up in the shoes of the banker or the lawyer.

Famous quotes containing the word bet:

    Christina Bailey: I was just thinking how much you can tell about a person from such simple things. Your car, for instance.
    Mike Hammer: Now what kind of message does it send you?
    Christina: You have only one real, lasting love.
    Mike: Now who could that be?
    Christina: You. You’re one of those self-indulgent males who thinks about nothing but his clothes, his car, himself. I’ll bet you do push-ups every morning just to keep your belly hard.
    —A.I. (Albert Isaac)