What does the lawyer discover about knowledge and life in the short story The Bet by Anton Chekhov?

1 Answer | Add Yours

akoehler2's profile pic

akoehler2 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

In "The Bet" by Anton Chekhov, a banker and lawyer begin arguing over the death penalty versus solitary confinement. The lawyer declares the death penalty to be "better" seeing as "to live anyhow is better than not at all" (Chekov). The young and excited banker jumps at the opportunity to prove the lawyer wrong and bets him two million dollars that the lawyer could not survive five years in solitary confinement. The lawyer, willing to take the bet, increases the time to fifteen. So begins the fifteen year span where the lawyer lives in a lodge within the banker's garden. He is not allowed any human contact but can request food, drink, and items. Each year, the lawyer is fixated with various items: wine, food, music, and literature. Each year, solitary confinement becomes less of a struggle for the lawyer. The banker, meanwhile, struggles with everyday life, poor choices, and limited funds. He begins to worry that he will indeed lose the bet and not be able to pay the lawyer. His worry is for nothing.

The lawyer, spending so much time alone, gained knowledge about life through books. He has been living a life stripped away of human influence. The lawyer was able to see the world without the veil that blurs reality. While many believe the rich amount of information he gained of language, literature, and music should be celebrated, the lawyer was able to realize just how much humanity takes for granted. "And I despise your books, I despise wisdom and the blessings of this world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and deceptive, like a mirage" (Chekhov). As a society, people rely on money and material things to remain happy and fulfilled. Instead of relishing in our ability to experience life, we squander our time with possessions and desires. 

The lawyer feels that in these fifteen years, he has experienced more through reading and isolation than those that are not confined. Things don't matter to him anymore, like the two million dollars. Humanity does not really live life to the fullest and so the lawyer breaks the rules of the bet and in a sense the banker "wins." If you think about it, the lawyer does show that life can be lives in solitary confinement. However, having the time to really consider the concept of life essentially has him become a shell of a man, one that cannot live life the way he once did. So, solitary confinement can perhaps equal death, just not as quickly.

We’ve answered 318,957 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question