The Bet

by

Anton Chekhov

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The Banker Character Analysis

Young, wealthy, and fairly reckless at the beginning of the story, the banker insists that death is preferable to life imprisonment and is the one who initially makes the titular bet with the lawyer. In his later years, his luck has faltered and his wealth dwindled, transforming him into a desperate man. Like the everyday people that the lawyer grows to despise, the banker is ruled by his need to maintain his wealth no matter the cost. He decides to kill the lawyer the night before the bet is completed because he fears that the lawyer will become rich and successful with his money while he himself becomes a beggar. Upon finding the lawyer’s note and discovering what he has been through physically and psychologically, however, the banker is racked with guilt and self-hatred for making the bet in the first place. Nevertheless, he ultimately decides to protect himself from possible retribution on the part of the lawyer by hiding the letter in his safe. A complex character, the banker reveals both undesirable truths and redeemable realities of the human condition.

The Banker Quotes in The Bet

The The Bet quotes below are all either spoken by The Banker or refer to The Banker. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Green Bird edition of The Bet published in 2017.
Part 1 Quotes

“I myself have experienced neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment, but if one may judge a priori, then in my opinion capital punishment is more moral and more humane than imprisonment. Execution kills instantly, life-imprisonment kills by degrees. Who is the more humane executioner, one who kills you in a few seconds or one who draws the life out of you incessantly, for years?"

Related Characters: The Banker (speaker), The Lawyer
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

"Capital punishment and life-imprisonment are equally immoral; but if I were offered the choice between them, I would certainly choose the second. It's better to live somehow than not to live at all."

Related Characters: The Lawyer (speaker), The Banker
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

"Why did I make this bet? What's the good? The lawyer loses fifteen years of his life and I throw away two million. Will it convince people that capital punishment is worse or better than imprisonment for life? No, no! all stuff and rubbish. On my part, it was the caprice of a well-fed man; on the lawyer's pure greed of gold."

Related Characters: The Banker (speaker), The Lawyer
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2 Quotes

“He will take away my last farthing, marry, enjoy life, gamble on the Exchange, and I will look on like an envious beggar and hear the same words from him every day: 'I'm obliged to you for the happiness of my life. Let me help you.' No, it's too much! The only escape from bankruptcy and disgrace—is that the man should die."

Related Characters: The Banker (speaker), The Lawyer
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

“Before the table sat a man, unlike an ordinary human being. It was a skeleton, with tight-drawn skin, with long curly hair like a woman's, and a shaggy beard. The color of his face was yellow, of an earthy shade; the cheeks were sunken, the back long and narrow, and the hand upon which he leaned his hairy head was so lean and skinny that it was painful to look upon. His hair was already silvering with grey, and no one who glanced at the senile emaciation of the face would have believed that he was only forty years old.”

Related Characters: The Banker, The Lawyer
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

"Everything is void, frail, visionary and delusive as a mirage. Though you be proud and wise and beautiful, yet will death wipe you from the face of the earth … You are mad, and gone the wrong way. You take falsehood for truth and ugliness for beauty... So do I marvel at you, who have bartered heaven for earth. I do not want to understand you.”

Related Characters: The Lawyer (speaker), The Banker
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

“When he had read, the banker put the sheet on the table, kissed the head of the strange man, and began to weep … Never at any other time, not even after his terrible losses on the Exchange, had he felt such contempt for himself as now. Coming home, he lay down on his bed, but agitation and tears kept him a long time from sleeping…”

Related Characters: The Banker, The Lawyer
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

“The banker instantly went with his servants to the wing and established the escape of his prisoner. To avoid unnecessary rumors he took the paper with the renunciation from the table and, on his return, locked it in his safe.”

Related Characters: The Banker, The Lawyer
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Bet PDF

The Banker Character Timeline in The Bet

The timeline below shows where the character The Banker appears in The Bet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
On a dark autumn night, the banker paces in his study and recalls a party he hosted fifteen years before. In a... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
The banker disagrees, suggesting that capital punishment is in its way more moral than life imprisonment because... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Greed, Corruption, and Idealism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
The banker loses his temper, bangs his fist on the table, and makes a bet with the... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
The banker further goads the lawyer over dinner, telling him to back out before it is too... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Greed, Corruption, and Idealism Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Back in the present, the banker bemoans his decision to make this bet, because nothing has been gained: the lawyer has... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
...years previously, the lawyer is put under strict observation in a garden wing of the banker’s house. He is forbidden to leave, to interact with anyone or hear human voices, or... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
...more books than can easily be brought to him. He writes a letter to the banker in six languages and expresses joy at being able to understand the geniuses of the... (full context)
Part 2
Greed, Corruption, and Idealism Theme Icon
It is fifteen years later and the eve of the lawyer’s release. The banker is distraught because he cannot afford to pay the two million rubles. At the time... (full context)
Greed, Corruption, and Idealism Theme Icon
The old banker fears that the lawyer will, having won the bet, become wealthy, marry, and enjoy life... (full context)
Greed, Corruption, and Idealism Theme Icon
...the morning and everyone is asleep. The wind howls and it is pouring rain. The banker sneaks out to the garden and calls for the watchman, but he gets no answer.... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
The banker enters the hall and sees that the watchman is indeed missing. He taps on the... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
...with people.” But before he leaves, he wants to say a few words to the banker. First of all, he hates freedom, life, health, and all the blessings of the world... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
The banker has begun to cry. He puts the letter down and kisses the lawyer on the... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
The next morning, the watchman comes running to the banker and says that the lawyer climbed through the window into the garden and escaped. The... (full context)