“The Bet” by Anton Chekhov begins at a party given by a wealthy banker. The men at the party discuss the pros and cons of capital punishment. The argument concerns the difference between living a life in prison versus execution.
One of the discussion participants was a young lawyer. He adamantly opposes the death penalty with the argument that any life is better than no life. On the other hand, the banker supports the death penalty:
“I don't agree with you," said their host, the banker. "I have not tried either the death penalty or imprisonment for life, but if one may judge a priori, the death penalty is more moral and more humane than imprisonment for life. Capital punishment kills a man at once, but lifelong imprisonment kills him slowly…”
Carried away by the excitement of the discussion, the banker offers two million dollars if the young lawyer stays five years in solitary confinement. The lawyer consents to the bet but strangely states that he will stay fifteen years rather than five.
Both of the men make foolish bets that day to prove an idea that really did not answer the basic argument. At any rate, the two men agree on certain criteria concerning the bet:
The man would not cross threshold of the house for fifteen years. If he went two minutes before the time, he would lose the bet.
- He could not receive letters or read newspapers.
- He could not speak to anyone.
- He could have wine and smoke.
- His only relationship with the outside world was a little window for him to see ouside world.
- He could have anything he wanted and in any quantity he desired but only through the window.
- His imprisonment lasted from twelve o’clock on November 14, 1870 to twelve o’clock of November 14, 1885.
The lawyer passed his time in various ways. Studying, reading, writing---however, his bitterness
over the bet caught up with him. At the end of the long fifteen years, he left a note for the banker telling him that he no longer wanted the money and would be leaving the lodge a few hours early to preclude the winning of the bet.
The banker learned of this through a devious manner. His intention was to sneak into the lodge to kill the lawyer because if the banker had foolishly wasted his money through the years. To pay the bet would have ruined him.
Both men suffered from the bet; and, in the end, there was no winner.