Discuss the character of the young lawyer in "The Bet" by Anton Chekhov.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov, a young guest at a party given by an older banker enters into a discussion about capital punishment.  The young lawyer believes that any life is better than being executed.  

From the discussion, the host offers the young lawyer a bet.  If the lawyer can remain in solitary confinement for five years, the banker will give him two million dollars.  The lawyer ups the ante to fifteen years in confinement to prove that any life is better than death. 

The oddity here is that the lawyer increases the number of years of the confinement.  Obviously, there is a problem with the young man and his affiliation with humanity.  Why would he increase the number himself? When the lawyer begins the bet, the banker sets him up in his guesthouse. When he wanted them, the lawyer could get food, books, music--- whatever he wanted except human contact. 

In the beginning, the lawyer is depressed; however, eventually, he begins to study everything from the Bible to languages.  He changes his literature and the things that are important to him as the years pass. In addition, the lawyer runs the gamut of emotional experiences.

As the end of the fifteen years approach, the reader learns that the banker has squandered all of his money.  If he pays the wager, he will have lost everything.  The banker decides to kill the lawyer.  He discovers a note written by the lawyer.  In it states, that the lawyer has spent his fifteen years experiencing life through books. From this, he concludes that the material world is unnecessary and stupid because everyone will die anyway.  He intends to leave five hours early and rejects the money that he has been given.

"For fifteen years I have been intently studying earthly life. It is true I have not seen the earth nor men, but in your books I have drunk fragrant wine, I have sung songs, I have hunted stags and wild boars in the forests, have loved women. . . . To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live by, I renounce the two million of which I once dreamed as of paradise and which now I despise. To deprive myself of the right to the money I shall go out from here five hours before the time fixed and so break the compact ..."

The lawyer's assertion that by reading a lot of books he has experienced everything that a man ever could is believed by him.  Unfortunately, the reading of books does not outdo the actual experiences in real life. The banker is saved by the lawyer who no longer wants the money but rather his freedom. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial