Why does the banker in "The Bet" believe his bet with the lawyer was a caprice, and what does this reveal about Chekhov's view of life?

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The banker in the story discovers that he has lost the bet with the lawyer. The reader also learns at the end of the story that in fact, the banker had cheated when he lost his bet with the lawyer. As a result, he is forced to sign over all his belongings to him. The banker could not bear this thought of "being utterly ruined." He cries and tells himself that it was his own fault for having staked his all on something so meaningless as a bet. But what actually happened? How did he cheat? The banker has another prisoner, who is being held for murder. By threatening him, the banker makes sure that he will be able to win their bet against each other by cheating.

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The impending danger of getting bankrupt by losing two million rubles to the lawyer makes the banker curse himself for his present predicament. The story begins in retrospection when the banker recalls how he got into this big trouble.

Contrary to his expectation, the lawyer has been able to stay...

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in solitary confinement for fifteen years. Now, it’s only one night to go and he will have to part with his two million rubles.

For the banker had "millions beyond his reckoning," he had never valued money. In the past fifteen years, "desperate gambling on the Stock Exchange, wild speculation" and self-indulgence have "led to the decline of his fortune and the proud, fearless, self-confident millionaire had become a banker of middling rank, trembling at every rise and fall in his investments."

If he loses his two millions to the lawyer, he would be deprived of the "last penny" he has got. 

Finding himself trapped and helpless, the banker has nobody else to accuse but himself. He laments the moment when he had staked his millions for a "nonsensical and meaningless" bet.

Now, when he has to part with his millions of rubles, he realizes that it was solely “the caprice of a pampered man” that has put him into such a difficult situation. He realizes the futility of the bet, which has brought him no good.

He laments his decision for he fears he'll "be utterly ruined."

Chekov might be suggesting to his readers that quite often we act or make decisions impulsively, without considering the outcome of such actions. Acting this way often gets us into big trouble. We ought to be doing things in a careful and thoughtful manner.

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In Chekhov's story "The Bet," as the banker looks back on the events that led up to the bet, he believes that he acted on “the caprice of a pampered man.” What explanation does he give for the lawyer’s motivation for accepting the bet?

The banker and the lawyer made a bet that the lawyer could not remain in solitary confinement from twelve o'clock noon on November 14, 1870 until twelve o'clock noon on November 14, 1885. As the story opens "it was a dark autumn night" and the banker is remembering how the bet was made fifteen years before. This is a marvelous opening for the story because it begins close to the ending. The intervening fifteen years are covered in flashbacks occurring in the banker's memory. Chekhov manages to create the illusion of the passage of fifteen years in just a few pages. The banker is asking himself:

"What was the object of that bet? What is the good of that man's losing fifteen years of his life and my throwing away two million? Can it prove that the death penalty is better or worse than imprisonment for life? No, no. It was all nonsensical and meaningless. On my part it was the caprice of a pampered man, and on his part simple greed for money ..."

So the banker believes that the lawyer was only motivated by greed for money. It would seem to the reader that the young man was also motivated by a desire to prove that life imprisonment is preferable to the death penalty. However, he probably would not have considered making such a bet if there had not been a great sum of money involved. It is hard to say how much two million rubles would represent in present-day American dollars, but it seems likely that the two million rubles would have been equivalent to something like two million dollars.

Nowhere in the story does Chekhov say that the men had been drinking on the night the bet was made, but considering that it was an all-male party, there must have been a lot of vodka consumed. The heated argument and the preposterous bet which are dramatized with dialogue suggest that both the banker and the lawyer were drunk. But Chekhov wanted to avoid suggesting that this was just drunken bravado, because they could have mutually agreed to call off the bet the next morning when they were sober and realized how frivolous it was. So instead of saying that the bet was the caprice of a drunken man, Checkhov says it was the caprice of a pampered man.

Initially, the banker says:

"I'll bet you two million you wouldn't stay in solitary confinement for five years."

And the lawyer replies:

"If you mean that in earnest, I'll take the bet, but I would stay not five but fifteen years."

Why does he add ten years to his term of confinement? This is not greed but bravado. It suggests that the banker mistakenly considers him a foolish youngster who is only thinking about money and all the things that money can buy. But the young man has more strength of character than the banker realizes. It is the banker who only thinks about money, but the lawyer is concerned about principles. That is why he supports the abolition of the death penalty and why he is able to tolerate fifteen years of solitary confinement when the banker has told him:

"Think better of it, young man, while there is still time. To me two million is a trifle, but you are losing three or four of the best years of your life. I say three or four, because you won't stay longer."

The banker thought the lawyer was motivated by "a simple greed for money," but he found out he was wrong.

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