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Key Elements of Anton Chekhov's "The Bet"

Summary:

Key elements of Anton Chekhov's "The Bet" include the themes of greed and the value of human life, the conflict between material wealth and intellectual enrichment, and the transformation of characters through isolation and introspection. The story explores the consequences of a bet made between a banker and a lawyer about whether solitary confinement is preferable to capital punishment.

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What are the terms of the bet in Chekhov's "The Bet"?

The terms of the bet are that the lawyer must live in isolation for fifteen years. At the end of that time, if he fulfills his bet of having no human contact for this period, the banker will pay him two million rubles.

The bet arises out of an argument on which is crueler, the death penalty or life imprisonment. A young lawyer argues that "to live anyhow is better than not at all." A banker contradicts him and bets the lawyer that he would not stay in solitary confinement for five years. The inflamed and boastful lawyer calls his bet, saying if the banker is in earnest, he will live, not five, but fifteen years in isolation. 
During this long period of isolation, the lawyer may have books, musical instruments, any kind of food, wine, letters, and virtually anything else that he wants except human contact. So, at first, the lawyer is content. He reads books that are light in their subject matter, and he plays the piano frequently. In the second year, he becomes vociferous in his private conversations with himself, and he stops playing the piano. Then, in the sixth year, he decides to become an intellectual and studies languages and reads philosophy and history. In the tenth year, he reads only theological texts. Yet, though he has gained wisdom and knowledge, the lawyer finds his knowledge worthless because he has no one with whom to share anything.

Near the end of the term, the banker finds himself much poorer than he was when he made the bet. In his desperation he contemplates murdering the lawyer to avoid paying and being financially ruined. When he looks into the garden house where the lawyer is imprisoned, he finds him asleep. Breaking the seals on the door, the banker discovers a prematurely aged man asleep and the pessimistic letter of the lawyer, who has renounced the bet. After reading this letter, the banker returns to his house.
The next day, the watchman reports that the prisoner is gone; the banker retrieves the letter and hides it in his safe. Ironically, both men feel a contempt for their lives.  

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In "The Bet" by Anton Chekhov, what are the terms of the bet?  

Life imprisonment or capital punishment---that was the discussion that led to “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov. The point of view of the story is third person limited omniscient.  Foreshadowing plays an important part in the story since the narrator looks back fifteen years in the past to recall the establishing of the bet.

Chekhov’s clever writing focuses not on the characters as much as the premise of the story.  He wants the reader to ponder the question of the death penalty and life imprisonment. 

His impetus in the story clearly takes on a deeper level when the reader begins to wonder what he might do if he were in the same situation.  Then, the importance of the story comes to the forefront---isolation or gregariousness. Chekhov makes no decision for the reader.  It is left to the reader to decide the ethical questions.

The two characters in the story represent two aspects of society—the young lawyer and the older banker.  The bet becomes a contest between the two men involved. The initial event is the old banker remembering the reason for the bet which was the moral difference between the two punishments.

The banker argues that the death penalty is better because it was quickly over. The lawyer avows that any life is better than death.

The bet is made:

  1. Two million dollars to the winner.
  2. Five years confinement---stupidly, the lawyer changes it to fifteen years—of the lawyer.
  3. Solitary confinement on the property of the banker. 
  4. No human contact during the time.
  5. The lawyer would be provided with anything that he needed. Uh oh. It's a stalemate. So the two made a bet—if the lawyer can stand to be in voluntary solitary confinement for fifteen years, the banker will pay him two million smackers. Now that's a lot of dough. 
  6. At the end of time at midnight, the lawyer would receive his pay.

The story’s plot circles around the lawyer and the use of his time during his confinement.  It is a detailed look at the human spirit and the need for interaction with other people.  In the end, the lawyer realizes what a mistake the bet was and leaves early negating the bet. 

This saves the banker who had misused his money and would have been bankrupt had he been forced to make the payment. To indicate the power of the bet and its impact on the contestants, the banker enters the lawyer’s room with the intention of killing him.  The lawyer is sleeping and the banker reads a note that is left on the desk.  

The notes states that the lawyer has experienced life through books.

 "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 has decided that the materialism is worthless and all that is left is to die. The banker has been saved from financial ruin.

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What are the terms of the bet in Chekhov's "The Bet"?

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 written by the lawyer who claims he will leave early, thus breaking the bet. The lawyer has become nihilistic. He now finds life to be meaningless and therefore the money is useless to him. He leaves early, breaking the bet.

Chekov once had a third section but eventually omitted it. In this section, the banker made it a habit of giving praise to the lawyer as a way of assuaging his guilt. The lawyer reappears one day and demands a large sum of money or he will commit suicide. The banker agrees and says that the lawyer wins the bet. Since Chekov omitted this part, readers have supposed that he was unsure how this story should end or what the story should mean. Chekov seems to be making a study of the psychology of the two men rather than suggesting some main point or moral to the story.

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What are the terms of the bet in Chekhov's "The Bet"?

The bet is between the lawyer and the banker. The subject matter of their bet is over the morality of the death penalty. The banker believes the death penalty is more humane than life in prison, but the lawyer disagrees. The lawyer believes life in prison is a more humane option because he believes that some life is better than no life. He then says, 

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 banker then bets the lawyer 2 million rubles that the lawyer couldn't stay in solitary confinement for 5 years. The lawyer agrees to the bet, but oddly increases his confinement time to 15 years for no increase in possible winnings. The bet begins at noon the following day.

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When was the bet made in Anton Chekov's book, "The Bet"?

If you are asking when Chekhov wrote the story, the answer is that he wrote it in 1899.

If you are asking when in the story the bet is made between the banker and the lawyer, the answer is that it was made 15 years before the "present."  15 years before the story starts, there had been a dinner party at the banker's home.  Because of a conversation that people were having, the banker ended up betting the lawyer that the lawyer could not live 15 years separated from all human contact.

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What is the conflict in Anton Chekhov's short story "The Bet"?

Anton Chekhov's "The Bet" focuses on a conflict between a banker and a young lawyer who enter into a disagreement at a party hosted by the banker. While the banker believes that capital punishment is more humane than life imprisonment, the lawyer claims that he would choose life imprisonment over a death sentence. The argument becomes so ferocious that the banker bets the lawyer two million rubles that he cannot spend fifteen years in captivity. The lawyer takes the banker up on this bet, and he proceeds to submit himself to voluntary imprisonment for the next fifteen years in the banker's garden house. 

A secondary conflict is the fact that the banker, now at the end of the fifteen-year term, will be financially ruined by paying out the two million rubles to satisfy the terms of the bet; he is considering murdering the lawyer. The lawyer, on the other hand, is equally as ruined by the conflict, feeling utter hatred for life after spending fifteen years in isolation. 

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What is the conflict in Anton Chekhov's short story "The Bet"?

I would say that there are two main conflicts in the story.  The first conflict is a simple "who is right" argument.  Is it better to punish someone by capital punishment or is it better to do life in prison?  The lawyer believes that prison is better; the banker believes that death is better.  In comes the bet.  The banker puts up 2 million rubles and the lawyer agrees to stay under house arrest for 15 years.

Once the time in prison begins, the conflict switches to an internal conflict for both characters.  For most of the 15 years, the internal conflict is centered squarely on the lawyer.  He's definitely struggling with solitary confinement, and what makes it worse is knowing that he can walk out at any time (but lose the bet).  By the end he is at peace with the prison sentence but in conflict with everything that he has learned about humans and society.  He's disgusted with all of it and intentionally loses the bet with 5 minutes to go. 

The other internal conflict is the conflict raging inside of the banker as the bet nears its conclusion.  The banker is almost completely broke.  Paying the 2 million rubles will wipe him out.  The banker decides to kill the lawyer and frame somebody for the act.  He's wrestling with knowing how wrong that is and knowing that he really wants to keep his money. 

Chekhov makes it clear that by the end of story, both men have been utterly broken by their own internal conflicts.  

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In “The Bet” by Anton P. Chekhov, what kind of conflict does the lawyer face in order to uphold his end of the bet?

The bet between the lawyer and the banker is a relatively simple bet.  It takes a long time to complete, but the set up itself is straight forward.  The banker believes that capital punishment is better, and the lawyer believes time in prison is more humane.  The two men make a bet.  If the lawyer can tolerate 15 years in solitary confinement, then the banker will pay him 2 million rubles.  

Most of the story is told from the banker's perspective, so the reader gets a good insight into his conflict.  The lawyer's conflict is a bit harder to pin down.  Of the plot types that teachers emphasize, the lawyer is experiencing a man vs. self conflict.  He is in his prison all by himself.  He is well provided for with food, drink, books, and music, but he has almost zero contact with humans of any kind.  He is not in danger from any outside force or person, so man vs. man and man vs. nature do not apply.  The lawyer's struggle is within his own mind. Can he remain sane and positive during the 15 years?  I would argue that he failed.  He comes out despising just about everything in human life, and he no longer wants the money.  Perhaps that is a victory, but I see him as a broken man.  

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Who are the characters in Anton Chekhov's "The Bet"?

The story has four characters: a party guest, a watchman, a lawyer, and a banker. The lawyer and the banker are the two main characters.

At a party, the guests are discussing which is worse: the death penalty or life in prison. One partygoer is given a few lines of dialogue:

"They're both equally immoral," remarked one of the guests, "because their purpose is the same, to take away life. The State is not God. It has no right to take away that which it cannot give back, if it should so desire."

As a result of this discussion, a young lawyer and a banker make a bet that the lawyer can't survive fifteen years in prison. If he does, the banker will give him two million roubles.

The lawyer is imprisoned under good terms—he is in solitary confinement but lives in the banker's house with plenty of food, wine, music, and books. The banker tells him it will be especially hard on him to be imprisoned because it is voluntary and he can leave at anytime.

The lawyer, who begins happy and hopeful, develops a contempt for humankind in his imprisoned state and a contempt for the two million roubles. He leaves his prison five minutes before his time is up, to show his disdain for the money. The banker, who has become increasingly anxious to preserve his funds, is both relieved and filled with self-contempt.

A watchman tells the banker at the end that the lawyer has left early.

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Who are the characters in Anton Chekhov's "The Bet"?

There are only 2 characters in this story: A banker and a young lawyer.

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What bet is made between the two men in "The Bet" by Anton Chekhov?

In this story, a bet is made between a banker and a lawyer after a lively discussion about prison and the death penalty. Initially, the banker bets the lawyer two million that he could not stay in solitary confinement for a period of five years. In response, the lawyer claims that not only would he be able to stay for five years, he would actually last for fifteen years. Believing that this would be impossible, the banker accepts this bet and stakes his two million.

This "wild" and "senseless" bet is now agreed between the two men. The banker does not believe that the lawyer will win. On the other hand, the lawyer is confident that it is better to have some kind of life than no life at all.

Thus, the arrangements are now made for the lawyer to live in solitary confinement within the grounds of the banker's home, setting the scene for the rest of the story.

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What bet is made between the two men in "The Bet" by Anton Chekhov?

"The Bet" by Anton Chekhov begins at a dinner party held by a banker. The conversation turns to capital punishment, and the guests discuss whether capital punishment or life imprisonment would be worse. The lawyer says that he'd rather be in prison because at least he would still be alive, and that some life is better than none at all. He then makes a bet with the banker that he can stay imprisoned for the next fifteen years. The banker then bets the lawyer two million dollars that he cannot do it. The lawyer takes him up on his bet and for the next fifteen years (minus one hour) stays in a cell where the banker can keep an eye on him. In the end, the lawyer forfeits the two million dollars because money no longer has the same meaning for him it once had.

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Who made the bet in the story "The Bet" by Anton Chekhov?

“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. 

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