How has the banker's life changed during the  lawyers imprisonment in "The Bet" by Anton Chekhov?

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kathik | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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In Anton Chekhov's short story, "The Bet," a banker and a lawyer make a bet after arguing about which is worse-life imprisonment or the death penalty. The lawyer says,

"Capital punishment and life imprisonment are equally immoral; but if I were offered the choice between them, I would certainly choose the second. It's better to live somehow than not to live at all." (Chekhov 2)

He then bets the banker two million dollars that he can stay imprisoned for fifteen years. The banker gladly takes the bet because he has way more than two million dollars, and he does not believe the lawyer will last anyway.

While the lawyer is spending his time locked up, reading books and listening to music, the banker is making many bad deals, and things change dramatically during those fifteen years:

"Fifteen years before he had too many millions to count, but now he was afraid to ask himself which he had more of, money or debts. Gambling on the stock exchange, risky speculation, and the recklessness of which he could not rid himself even in old age, had gradually brought his business to decay; and the fearless, self-confident, proud man of business had become an ordinary banker, trembling at every rise and fall in the market." (Chekhov 6)

The banker sees his only way out of ruin is to kill the lawyer. When he finds the lawyer seemingly asleep in a chair, a sheet of paper on the table, the banker picks up the paper and reads that the lawyer does not want his millions--among other things.

As readers, we think the banker may have changed when he reads the letter and begins to weep that he feels "contempt for himself," but at the end of the story, we wonder if he really does feel remorseful because he "...took the paper with the renunciation from the table and, on his return, locked it in his safe." (Chekhov 11) It sounds like money is still very important to him.

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