Discussion Topic

The resolution and conflict following the wager in "The Bet."


In "The Bet," the resolution occurs when the lawyer renounces the two million rubles just before the bet concludes, leaving a note explaining his disdain for material wealth and human greed. The conflict resolves as the banker, relieved of his financial burden, is left to reflect on the futility and moral implications of their wager.

Expert Answers

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

In "The Bet," does the wager resolve the issue it was made for?

The original issue was whether the death penalty was better or worse, more or less humane, than imprisonment for life. It somehow got confused with solitary confinement, which had not previously been discussed at all. This was evidently because the lawyer could hardly agree to be imprisoned for the rest of his life, and the banker could hardly be expected to propose such a thing. It might mean keeping the lawyer locked up somewhere for as long as fifty years. He would have to be dead to win the bet. Meanwhile, the banker, a middle-aged man, would certainly have died. A dead man would be collecting from a dead man! So the original issue was never resolved from the very beginning. For plot purposes, Chekhov had to change the terms of the bet, without any explanation, into solitary confinement for fifteen years. That in itself seems questionable, since the banker had only specified a term of five years.

"It's not true! I'll bet you two million you wouldn't stay in solitary confinement for five years."

"If you mean that in earnest," said the young man, "I'll take the bet, but I would stay not five but fifteen years."

No one has been able to explain why the lawyer should have gratuitously added ten years to his ordeal. It was a big all-male party and no doubt a lot of vodka was being drunk. The quoted dialogue sounds as if the two men were showing off for the others and then were too proud to call the bet off when they were sober. The story opens the night before the fifteen years is up, and the banker himself is reflecting that the bet was senseless and proved nothing.

"What was the object of that bet? What is the good of that man's losing fifteen years of his life and my throwing away two million? Can it prove that the death penalty is better or worse than imprisonment for life? No, no. It was all nonsensical and meaningless."

Technically, the banker wins the bet because the lawyer deliberately loses it by leaving his confinement before the full fifteen years is up. Morally, the lawyer has won the bet because he could easily have remained imprisoned for a few more hours. However, he would never have collected the two million rubles because the banker intended to kill him. So the unforeseeable ending has the winner losing and the loser winning. And the issue for which the bet had been made is left unresolved. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Bet," do the protagonist and antagonist conflict after making the wager?

Interesting question.  Most teachers stress the basic conflict types.  Man vs man, man vs. society, man vs. nature, and man vs. self are the most basic conflict forms.  

At the beginning of the story, I would definitely agree that the banker and the lawyer are in a man vs man conflict.  The two gentleman are having a civilized discussion about the best way to end a man's life.  I'm not sure why discussing that is civilized, but I digress.  The lawyer says that capital punishment is horrible because any life is better than no life.  The banker disagrees, and says that life in prison is way less humane.  

"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 suggests a friendly little bet.  

"It's not true! I'll bet you two millions you wouldn't stay in solitary confinement for five years."

The lawyer not only says yes, but ups the ante to 15 years . . . for no more money.  What? I don't get it either.

The story makes it appear that the bet began in earnest the next day at noon.  From this point forward, I can't positively say that the lawyer and banker are in conflict with each other anymore.  They don't have any contact with each other and their actions in no way affect each other.  

However, I don't mean to say that the banker and lawyer are free from conflict.  It just isn't man vs. man anymore.  Both men are in the man vs. self conflict.  The lawyer goes through tremendous mood swings throughout his time.  

. . . the prisoner suffered severely from loneliness and depression.

Depression was followed by contentment, then insatiable learning, then a sort of frantic learning, followed finally by a completely jaded attitude with humanity in general.  

"To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live by, I renounce the two millions of which I once dreamed as of paradise and which now I despise."

The lawyer decides to forfeit the bet 5 hours early and lose everything, because he just doesn't see the point anymore. 

The banker is also not free from conflict.  Early on, he doesn't have a care in the world.  He's rich.  But as time passes, his wealth dries up and he realizes that he will be broke if the lawyer wins the bet. 

"To-morrow at twelve o'clock he will regain his freedom. By our agreement I ought to pay him two millions. If I do pay him, it is all over with me: I shall be utterly ruined."

That fact introduces the man vs self struggle within the banker.  He can honor his bet and be poor.  Or he can secretly murder the lawyer and stay semi-wealthy.  The banker opts to kill the lawyer.  

So to answer your question in a short, direct manner.  Yes, once the bet begins, the two men have conflicts.  The conflict is with their inner self though and no longer with each other. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on