What essential information is provided by the two flashbacks at the beginning of "The Bet"?
"The Bet" has a complicated plot and covers a period of fifteen years, and yet Chekhov brilliantly manages to compress the whole story into just a few pages. He does this by starting close to the climax and providing much necessary exposition in the form of flashbacks in the banker's mind.
Chekhov's main problem is with verisimilitude--making the bet believable. It is actually quite fantastic, something Edgar Allan Poe might have conceived. A young man bets he can spend fifteen years in solitary confinement. An older man bets two million rubles that he will not be able to endure such confinement. The young man stands to gain a fortune, but the older man has nothing to gain--and two million rubles to lose.
In the flashbacks at the beginning of "The Bet," Chekhov takes pains to explain how the bet came to be made. Chekhov begins his flashbacks almost immediately.
The old banker was walking up and down his study and remembering how, fifteen years before, he had given a party one autumn evening.
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