The Bet Characters

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

''The Bet'' is a short story by Anton Chekhov. Two characters, the lawyer and the banker make a ridiculous bet. In this lesson, we will learn about the characters to get a better understanding of the story.

Background

Anton Chekhov wrote the short story The Bet in 1889. The short story follows the account of a banker who held a party, which resulted in a life-changing bet. After a discussion on the death penalty and life in jail, the banker bets that the lawyer couldn't stay in solitary confinement for fifteen years. The reward: two million rubles. The lawyer agrees and remains confined to the banker's spare house where he has zero contact with the outside world, except the company of books. He is just about to finish the fifteen years when the banker, who doesn't have the money to pay the lawyer decides that he must kill him to avoid going bankrupt. On the night that the banker goes to kill the man, he chooses not to because he finds a letter written by the lawyer saying that he no longer cares for material possessions; he intends to exit the bet on his own, five hours before that mark of fifteen years. Pretty crazy, right? Chekhov created brilliant characters to make this story come to life, and in this lesson, we will learn about the lawyer and the banker in detail.

The Banker

The banker is incredibly competitive and definitely out to be on top, which is what spurs the bet in the first place. During the heated conversation about the death penalty versus life in prison, the banker gets carried away by his determination to prove his point that he slams his fist on the table and says, 'I'll bet you two millions you wouldn't stay in solitary confinement for five years.' The banker is willing to go to extreme lengths to prove his point.

The banker's need to prove the point through an absurd bet and his willingness to actually confine the lawyer to solitary confinement shows the reader that he likes to be in charge. He doesn't like to be questioned. This makes sense because he is a government official and he boasts his wealth openly, which serves as a power move in front of the men at the party.

The banker gladly locks up the lawyer, who crazily agrees to the bet. And by the end of the story, we get a glimpse at the personality of the banker since he is willing to kill the lawyer to avoid having to pay him two million rubles. He says, 'I have only to take this half-dead man, throw him on the bed, stifle him a little with the pillow.' Before he discovers the note the lawyer wrote eschewing all material possessions, he thinks about how he can kill the man without bringing about suspicion as well. He decides that suffocation would be the most reliable method.

His immorality is a bit humorous too; at the beginning of the story he says, 'to me two millions are a trifle', but by the end of the story, he says, 'he will take my last penny from me… while I shall look at him with envy like a beggar.' The banker cannot afford to pay the man, and even if he had the money, the reader must wonder if he ever intended on paying him anyways.

The Lawyer

The lawyer is young, passionate, and maybe just a little bit nuts. When the heated debate at the party takes places, he challenges the banker's bet by saying, 'I'll take the bet, but I would stay not five but fifteen years.' Seriously? This man is willing to give up a good portion of his life to prove that life, not matter how it is lived, is better than death. The lawyer acts the martyr to prove his point, making him just as competitive as the banker, if not, more so.

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