Imagine staying in one room and talking to no one for fifteen years. That was “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov. The story hinges on a party that was given by a banker and the ensuing discussion. Written in the latter part of the nineteen century, the details of the discussion concern topics which have not been settled today.
The story begins with the banker looking back at the last fifteen years. He was afraid that he would be bankrupted by having to pay off his debt to the man who had stayed confined for fifteen years. The banker even considers killing the man.
The banker recalls how the bet began with the party. A discussion began about capital punishment. The banker felt that capital punishment would be better than life imprisonment. To the banker, it would torturous to stay confined for the rest of a person’s life. The debate continued.
Finally, a young lawyer was asked his opinion. At least, a person would still be alive:
‘The death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoral, but if I had to choose between the death penalty and imprisonment for life, I would certainly choose the second. To live anyhow is better than not at all.’
The banker foolishly makes a bet with the lawyer, who is only twenty-five. If the he will stay confined for five years, the banker will give him two million dollars. With less thought than the banker, the lawyer said that he would take the bet and stay confined for fifteen years.
The agreement was made that the lawyer was to stay on the property of the banker. He would be provided with everything that he needed with the exception of visitors.
1st year- The man suffered from depression and loneliness. He played the piano continuously. He did not drink or smoke. The books he read were love stories.
2nd year-The piano was silent. He began to read the classics.
5th year-He played the piano again. He lay around and slept most of the time. He read little or nothing. Often, he could be heard crying.
6th year-The lawyer began studying languages. He mastered six languages. He read over six hundred volumes.
10th year-He sat at the table and read nothing but the Bible. After the Bible, he read theologies of all kinds of religions.
14th/15th-Read indiscriminately. He read science, Byron, Shakespeare, chemistry, medicine, and philosophy.
The last day came. The banker had lost most of his money. If he paid the debt, it bankrupt him. The banker says to himself: ‘Why didn’t the man die? He is only forty now. He will marry, will enjoy life, while I will be a beggar…’
At 3:00 a.m., the banker goes to the window to see the man. Silently, the banker enters and discovers that the man looks as though he is sixty rather than forty. The old man notices a page that has been written and addressed to him.
"Tomorrow at twelve o'clock I regain my freedom..." In the note, the lawyer renounces the money, and everything that he thinks that the banker represents. He has gained wisdom from his reading and studying. He is much wiser than the banker. At the end of the note, he states that he will leave five hours before the bet ends. He does not want the money.
The banker is elated and kisses the sleeping man on the head. Later, he discovers that the workmen saw the “prisoner” leave. He took the paper which the man had written to him and placed it in his safe.