The Bet Questions and Answers
by Anton Chekhov

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In the short story "The Bet," how does the banker feel about himself at the end of the fifteen years?  

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Scott David eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the time between when the wager is made and when it ends, circumstances for the banker have turned for the worst. He has lost most of his fortune, and, as the deadline approaches, he realizes that this bet has the potential to ruin him. Thus, to save his own financial situation, he determines to murder his opponent. In the process, he sees the note the lawyer had left on the table, which details his renunciation of the world and his intention to forfeit the wager, rather than fall into the same material lifestyle he's come to abhor.

In the aftermath of this revelation, the banker feels a complicated mix of deep relief, remorse and self-hatred. In the end, he is financially saved and yet, in the process, his own previous mindset (and his desire to kill the lawyer rather than fulfill the terms of the bet) has validated the lawyer's condemnation by revealing the banker's own moral bankruptcy. Thus, this encounter has revealed a deeply upsetting truth about himself and his own values (and the moral corruption, this story tells us, those values represent). His sense of relief and thankfulness that he will not be financially ruined after all only makes this realization all the more self-apparent.

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Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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At the end of the fifteen years, the banker seems to feel very sorry for himself. He used to have lots of money and friends, enough that he could casually make a bet for an absolutely huge sum of money and not give a second thought to it. His circumstances have been reduced since he made that original bet, and now if he has to pay out the money he owes to the lawyer, he will be "ruined for ever" financially; he would never be able to recover. He feels that if he pays he'll be transformed into an "envious beggar" and have to watch the lawyer live high on the hog while he will be forced to endure "bankruptcy and disgrace." He is, indeed, having a big personal pity party. In fact, the banker sits, "clutching his head in despair," as he worries for himself and what will become of him. He feels very sorry for himself as a result of the losses he's taken from gambling on the stock market, speculation, and various financial risks, and now he is almost too scared to assess whether he has more "money or debts." He even considers death as an alternative to having to spend the rest of his life in poverty.

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William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Chekhov's story "The Bet," the banker ends up feeling ashamed of himself. 

At no other time, even when he had lost heavily on the Stock Exchange, had he felt so great a contempt for himself.

The banker has a number of reasons for feeling this way.

  • Probably most importantly, he is ashamed of the fact that he had been considering murdering his prisoner in order to get out of paying him the two million roubles he had won and richly deserved. "Poor creature!" thought the banker, "he is asleep and most likely dreaming of the millions. And I have only to take this half-dead man, throw him on the bed, stifle him a little with the pillow, and the most conscientious expert would find no sign of a violent death." The banker had even been planning to allow one of his servants to be blamed for the lawyer's death and most likely sent to Siberia. "If I had the pluck to carry out my intention," thought the old man, "Suspicion would fall first upon the watchman."
  • The banker is also ashamed of the fact that money has become such an obsession with him that he can hardly think of anything else. The lawyer's letter in which he renounces the two million roubles serves to make the banker aware of the vast spiritual difference between them. 
  • The banker feels responsible for the emaciated condition of his prisoner. After all, it was the banker who initiated the bet fifteen years ago at his big bachelor party. He started the whole thing when he said: "It's not true! I'll bet you two million you wouldn't stay in solitary confinement for five years."
  • The banker feels ashamed of being the de facto jailer of a man for fifteen long years in solitary confinement for no real purpose. "And now the banker, walking to and fro, remembered all this, and asked 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 ...'"
  • No doubt the banker is ashamed of the fact that his prisoner was, in effect, making him a gift of two million roubles when he should have been giving the two million roubles to the prisoner.
  • The banker must realize that he was only showing off before his important assembled guests when he offered to bet two million roubles without the prospect of winning anything tangible in return. He is not only ashamed of himself for his present weak and treacherous character, but he is ashamed of the ignorant, vainglorious, materialistic man he was fifteen years before. The lawyer may have lost his youth and health, but the banker has lost his soul. 

 

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