Your The Bet by Anton Chekhov The Bet by Anton Chekhov is actually a good study on the human nature and human experience. The story starts with a banker who reminisced a party he had fifteen years ago, and the bet that he made at that party. At the party, he staked a $2 million deal with any person who can stay in prison for 5 years. A young man who happened to be a lawyer answered his call, and even extended the terms of the bet by saying that he can do even fifteen years of solitary confinement! Thus, the bet was on.
For fifteen years, the lawyer was given everything he wanted: food, books, writing materials, etc. Everything was given except for communication with the outside world and, well, freedom and space. In a span of fifteen years, he became a wise man, became spiritual and did away with all the material things in the world – that includes the bet.
Now, the story is quite complicated if you look at it with the winner-loser aspect. Sure, the banker won because he did not have to pay the money that he *actually* owes the lawyer. With this sentence, we actually imply that the lawyer won, except that he did not actually get his prize. But then again, because the lawyer escaped his prison five hours before the prescribed time (thereby breaching the contract), the banker won. Then again, why would we think that the lawyer won in the first place? That’s because Chekhov illustrates how the young lawyer, fifteen years younger, changed from being materialistic to being a spiritual (polyglot too) person.
The lawyer managed to thwart all the material things that he used to want. We get the impression that not only he wants the money, he also wanted to prove himself to everyone, which means he is proud. But then his stay in prison actually changed him, and he let go of superficiality. This change makes the readers admire the lawyer because that is very hard to do; this makes the readers think that he won. But no, technically and logically, the banker won.
The question is, should he? This, for me, is the main conflict to resolve in this piece of literature. Who should win? Should it be the one who abided by the rules (the banker) or the one who have held a spiritual, more knowledgeable existence?
The lines of the banker sum the common interpretation of the situation of the two men, on pride, ego and winning: “Why didnt the man die? He is only forty now. He will take my last penny from me, he will marry, will enjoy life, will gamble on the Exchange; while I shall look at him with envy like a beggar, and hear from him every day the same sentence: I am indebted to you for the happiness of my life, let me help you! No, it is too much! The one means of being saved from bankruptcy and disgrace is the death of that man!”
The lines reek with competition and materialism. As we read, the lawyer had nothing to do with it as he already escaped before the bet can be off. For me, it’s the lawyer who won the bet, not because he managed to stay in solitude for fifteen years, but because he has strength to stay AND become a better person in a span of fifteen years. That is not a small feat. Chekhov’s technique of presenting the spiritual and making the reader agree with it works, as I also admire the lawyer now, and honestly, he diminishes the character of the banker who can be very materialistic and shallow.
Chekhov, A. The Bet. Web. 1888. Retrieved September 27, 2012.