What was the bet in Anton Chekhov's "The Bet"?

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Jason Lulos eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The story opens with the banker recalling a party fifteen years ago. The banker, the lawyer, and others are discussing capital punishment and which is more humane: the death penalty or life in prison. The banker claims that capital punishment (the death penalty) is more humane because it kills the man at once whereas life in prison "drags the life out of you" over many years. The lawyer disagrees. He says the death penalty and life in prison are both immoral but life in prison is preferable because some life is better than none.

The banker hypothetically bets the lawyer two million dollars/rubles that he could not stay in solitary confinement for five years. The lawyer inexplicably raises it to fifteen years for the same amount of money. They set the terms of the bet. The lawyer must remain in his prison for fifteen years. It is to be a lodge in the banker's garden. He is to have no contact with other people. He can not even hear a human voice, receive letters, or newspapers. He is allowed a musical instrument, any books he wants, and he can smoke and drink wine. His only contact with the outside world is through a small window through which he would receive food, books, and so forth. If any of these conditions are broken or if he leaves the lodge, the banker wins and keeps his two million.

The lawyer fluctuates between idleness, loneliness, and intense study. On the night before the final day, the banker considers killing the lawyer because giving up the two million will essentially bankrupt him. His wealth had decreased considerably over those fifteen years. The banker enters the lawyer's cell and finds a statement...

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Jonathan Beutlich eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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