In the short story "The Bet," written by Anton Chekhov, why did the lawyer and banker agree upon the bet?

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The bet originated at an all-male party given by the banker. The narrator does not mention alcoholic beverages, but it seems extremely likely that at such a party there would be a lot of drinking being done. There would be vodka before the meal and wine with the food. This seems like the only probable explanation for two men making such a bizarre bet. Chekhov did not want the reader to think that the bet was only made in a spirit of bravado by two intoxicated men. Therefore, he inserts a passage in which the banker, presumably sober now, tries to talk the lawyer into backing out of the bet.

"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. Don't forget either, you unhappy man, that voluntary confinement is a great deal harder to bear than compulsory. The thought that you have the right to step out in liberty at any moment will poison your whole existence in prison. I am sorry for you."

Now the two men seem to be stuck with a bet they would not have made if they had been sober. For the banker it is a matter of pride. He does not want to be the one to back out. For the lawyer it is a matter of pride, but it is also a matter of money. He stands to win a fortune of two million rubles if he can remain in solitary confinement for fifteen years. Somehow or other, the argument about capital punishment versus life imprisonment has evolved into a bet that the lawyer cannot stand solitary confinement for fifteen years. Nothing was said about solitary confinement when all the guests were arguing. But Chekhov seems to have changed the bet because, obviously, the banker would have no way of keeping a man in prison for life, especially when the lawyer was only twenty-five years old and the banker was close to twice his age. Furthermore, no one could agree to spend life in prison no matter how much he might win. He would not collect until he was dead!

The bet is close to being preposterous. The author has a hard time convincing the reader it really happened. He...

(The entire section contains 784 words.)

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