Does foreshadowing occur in "The Bet" by Anton Chekhov? If so, where and how? 

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Vikash Lata eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At a couple of places in the story, Chekhov gives us hints about the direction his story in which his story is heading. That the lawyer would renounce his deserved prize may not have occurred to us at the first reading of the story. However, a rereading of the text would illuminate those passages that clearly suggest his growing antipathy towards material wealth. 

For instance, the content of the lawyer’s first letter to the banker gives us compelling insight into the lawyer’s changing attitude. One of the sentences of the letter reads,

“Oh, if you only knew what unearthly happiness my soul feels now from being able to understand them!"

At least a period of five years is yet to be spent as a prisoner when the lawyer writes this letter. The letter clearly indicates his powerful spiritual experience. He talks of feeling “unearthly happiness” after discovering that the supreme knowledge discussed in all the major languages of the world is the same.

"The geniuses of all ages and of all lands speak different languages, but the same flame burns in them all."

His sole motive behind accepting the bet was to become wealthy. But now that he has mastered six languages and has read philosophy and world history, he is experiencing some esoteric joy in the absence of freedom and any luxuries.

Here, Chekhov gives a major hint about what is going to be the lawyer's attitude towards material wealth if he wins the bet.

Moreover, after the tenth year of his confinement, he devotes himself completely to reading the Gospel for almost a year. Later, he takes to reading "theology and histories of religion." All these tell us about his growing spiritual inclination and curiosity about supreme knowledge.

Spiritual writings don't usually promote attachment to worldly pleasures and material wealth. Instead, they tend to be about inculcating virtues in oneself and cleansing oneself of vice and evil thoughts, including sensual desires.

Had we stopped for a while at the passage describing how the lawyer spent a year reading Gospel, and raised the question of what a man, so spiritual and saintly, would do with two million rubles after winning the bet, we might have found out how the story was about to end.

Moreover, that the banker would lose the bet has also been foreshadowed in the story. At one instance, while the banker reflects upon the day when he offered the bet to the lawyer, he says,

"On my part it was the caprice of a pampered man, and on his part simple greed for money..."

If he was to win the bet, why would he sound so morose and depressed? These words clearly convey his regret over his decision to stake millions on an inconsequential issue. Here is the clear indication that he is going to lose the bet.

Thus, we see that Chekhov makes use of the device of foreshadowing throughout the story.