In "The Bet," what is the purpose of life?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Written in fable form, Chekhov's "The Bet" presents two different vantage points towards life, yet, ironically, the banker and the lawyer seem to arrive at the same conclusion that life on any terms is bitter, as the young man states. Nevertheless, Chekhov's having removed his third section to the story lends a certains narrative ambiguity regarding his theme.

At any rate, perhaps the purpose of life in Chekhov's story is in the striving, rather than in the end. For, the young lawyer, imprisoned for fifteen years, continues to live and seek knowledge and meaning. Like the Existentialists of the twentieth century, he arrives at the conclusion that all is meaningless. Prior to his escape from his confinement three days before he wins the bet, the lawyer writes,

"It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and deceptive, like a mirage....

"You have lost your reason and taken the wrong path. You have taken lies for truth and hideousness for beauty...." 

Obviously, the banker agrees with what he reads, for when he returns home, he feels "so great a contempt for himself." as he realizes, too, that all his life has been spent in empty vanity. Still, although he feels contempt for himself, the banker continues in his vanity as he hides the lawyer's letter which tells of his intention to leave before the bet is over after the lawyer's disappearance.

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