The Bet

by

Anton Chekhov

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Themes and Colors
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Greed, Corruption, and Idealism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Bet, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet” sets up a seemingly simple bet about the nature and value of life. The banker, who believes that the death penalty is more humane and moral than life imprisonment, argues that experiences, pleasures, and relationships are what make life worth living. A life spent imprisoned, according to him, is thus essentially not a life at all: it is instead a slow, constant death. In contrast, the young lawyer argues that…

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However ambiguous “The Bet” may be regarding the ultimate meaning of life, it is clear in its rejection of material wealth. The lawyer is willing to give up his freedom and remain in solitary confinement for two million rubles, while the wealthy banker throws his wealth around haphazardly to manipulate the banker into a cruel bet and later participates in financial recklessness that almost ruins him, leaving him willing to do anything—including murder—to maintain his…

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“The Bet” creates a situation in which a young lawyer, as part of a bet, is voluntarily imprisoned in solitary confinement for fifteen years. The bet itself is spurred by a debate about the nature of imprisonment: the lawyer believes that life is still worth living even when one is completely isolated, while the bet’s other party, the banker, holds that imprisonment, and the resultant loss of contact with the world, robs life…

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The initial debate between the banker and the lawyer about the death penalty is explicitly grounded in Christian morality. In fact, everyone at the banker’s party is presented as having the same general view of the death penalty: “They considered that form of punishment out of date, immoral, and unsuitable for Christian States.” Though the story doesn’t much mention religion again, a closer look at the ending reveals that the “The Bet” has a deeper…

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