What was the symbol in the short story "The Bet" by Anton Chekhov? 

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It could also be argued that the lawyer's books are another symbol in the story. When the lawyer first begins his solitary confinement, books are his only source of entertainment, as demonstrated by the fact that he requests books of a "light character." These books also represent the lawyer's only link to the outside world because he is not allowed any visitors or contact with anyone except the banker (to request supplies).

As the story progresses, the symbolism of the books changes. Instead of being a source of entertainment and interest, the books become symbolic of the lawyer's lived experience. As we see in his letter to the banker, the lawyer begins to confuse the books with his own experiences. He says that he has actually climbed mountains, for example, and had relationships with women.

Based on these experiences, the lawyer concludes that life is illusionary and lacking in any meaning. Books, therefore, take on an increasingly negative symbolic meaning and lead the lawyer to reject the money that he will win from the bet.

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I think the main symbolic image from the story is money, specifically the two million rubles.  

When the story starts out, the debate is about whether it is better to die quickly (death penalty) or to die slowly (life in prison).  The banker believes the former, but the lawyer believes that any life is better than no life. 

"The death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoral, but if I had to choose between the death penalty and imprisonment for life, I would certainly choose the second. To live anyhow is better than not at all."

The question is quickly shifted to a question of worth.  Is a man's time worth more, or is 2 million rubles worth more? It's basically a question of how much a person's time is worth. To the banker, his time is worth more.  To the lawyer, the money is worth more. 

All of that is flipped around by the end of the story though. The banker is next to broke, so the two million is deeply important to him.  On the other hand, the lawyer doesn't want the money anymore.  The two million rubles is symbolic of each man's values and how those values shift around over the course of the story. 

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