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The Bet by Anton Chekov
If you died today, would you be happy with the life you lived or would you realize you made a mistake that changed your life in a devasting way? In the short story, “The Bet” by Anton Chekov, a young man wasn’t satisfied and realized that he was willing to risk everything that was important in life for money. He got himself into a situation with a cost he did not fully understand, because of his greed for money. He wasted fifteen years of his life over a ridiculous bet. The theme of Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet” is the importance of human interactions and how humans are too greedy for their own good, shown through its irony, setting, satire, symbols, and tone.
First we have the irony of the story, which had a huge impact on the story’s theme and the importance of human interactions. For starters, it was ironic when the young lawyer said to change the amount of years he needed to be in solitary confinement from five to fifteen. This is ironic because why would someone spend more time for the same amount of money? I also found ironic the fact that when the banker went into the room to see the lawyer, on page 215 the writer describes the man, “No one would have believed that he was only forty.” The lawyer looked like someone that was in his hundreds. This makes the theme more real to the reader, because it shows what being alone for an extended period of time can do to a person. These ironic situations both help mold together the theme by proving that without human interactions, a persons life will slip through their fingertips.
Next, the theme, that human beings need each other to live, is supported with the setting of the story. On page 212 the room is described in a way that really makes a person feel sorry for the man and what he has to do, “He was allowed to have a musical instrument and books, and was allowed to write letters, to drink wine, and to smoke. By the terms of the agreement, the only relations he could have with the outer world were by a little window made purposely for that object. He might have anything he wanted - books, music, wine, and so on - in any quantity he desired by writing an order, but could only receive them through the window.” This description supports the theme through showing the readers how lonely the lawyer’s life became in that little room. The setting clearly demonstrates the theme, of why it is importance to have interactions with other humans, in the story through describing the room to the readers.
The satire in “The Bet” supports the theme by painting a picture of how tragic the story is. When the banker goes to see the lawyer after the fifteen years of solitude is up, he finds a letter that the poor man wrote, and it said:
“For fifteen years I have been intently studying earthly life. It is true I have not seen the earth nor
men, but in your books I have drunk fragrant wine, I have sung songs, I have hunted stags and
wild boars in the forests, have loved women ... Beauties as ethereal as clouds, created by the
magic of your poets and geniuses, have visited me at night, and have whispered in my ears
wonderful tales that have set my brain in a whirl.”
This letter shows satire that supports how the solitude the man chose for himself changed him, and made him love books instead of humans. This satire demonstrates the theme of the story through a sad letter written by the lonely man.
Next, the symbols in “The Bet” are a way of proving that the theme of the story is: material things are less important than being with people, and having relationships with humans. The first example of symbol is on page 212 where the young man says, “‘You stake your millions and I stake my freedom!’” I feel that this is symbolizing how people see money as their whole life. Another example of symbol is on page 212 the banker says, “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 is all nonsensical and meaningless. On my part the caprice of a pampered man, and on his part simple greed for money ...” This symbolizes that money and control are what dominate the human mind. The quickness of the brain can’t say what it’s thinking at the moment and think it through before saying it. The words of wisdom, “Think before you speak,” are easier said than done. So it is obvious that the symbols in this story help support the theme of how material things are less important having relationships with humans, and not being alone for your life.
Another way of seeing the theme of having relationships with other human beings is how the author portrays the tone of the short story. Throughout the story, the circumstances change but it all shows a similar theme. The story starts out energetic and exciting and ends terribly sad and low. These two extremes are shown in these two quotes. The energy in the beginning is shown on page 212 when the banker and the young man are arguing about which is worse: the death penalty or solitary confinement for life.
“It’s not true! I’ll bet you two million you wouldn’t stay in solitary
confinement for five years.”
“If you mean that earnest,” said the young man, “I’ll take the bet, but I would
stay not five years but fifteen years.”
“Fifteen? Done!” cried the banker. “Gentlemen, I stake two million!”
“Agreed! You stake your millions and I stake my freedom!” said the young
Near the end of the story, it became more sad and low because of how lonely and confined in the small room. Closer to the end of his consignment he wrote a letter to himself explaining how the last fifteen years of his life had been. One part of his letter was written on page 216 where he says :
"To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live by, I renounce
the two million of which i once dreamed as of paradise and which now I
despise. To deprive myself of the right to the money, I shall go out from
here five minutes before the time fixed and so break the compact...”
This shows that he despised living in the solitary confinement for the fifteen years and knew that he was not going to accept the two million dollars. He learned in that small room that life was more than the material things.
In conclusion, the theme of “The Bet” is why it is important to have human interactions, which is shown through irony, the setting, satire, symbols, and tone. The man’s greed in the story caused him to be irrational and do things he did not understand the consequences of. His solitary confinement ruined his life and turned him into a person who is better off dead. With how short life is, there’s not enough time to get caught up in the material things. Look at your life and see if it is how you’ve always wanted to live. If it isn’t, think about your priorities and reorganize them to fit your standards.
Checkovs, Anton. “The Bet”. November 14, 1885