Anton Chekhov, although a playwright, was no lesser known for his short essays in which he descried a variety of spectrum. “The Bet” was a part of my grade 8 syllabus and since then, it’s been 12 years now, I’ve read it many times. That’s not saying much since it’s a short story and not a “book” per se.
The bet starts off in a dinner hosted by a young banker, boisterous and eager to show off and please, where present is a young lawyer and other intellectuals and sundry capital fellows. The tone of the party sets towards a morbid topic: whether capital punishment is an acceptable form of punishment or not. Some said it’s a gruesome form and that it suited not a catholic people, while some simply said that it was not for humans to take what they couldn’t restore.
The banker chose to take an unexpected turn, not so if you take the crux in focus actually, and said that Capital Punishment was a better way to be dead rather than being imprisoned. One’d be dead at once rather than having his life dragged out slowly. The lawyer differed and lashed out that being alive was better than being dead.
This was where the bet took form. The banker bet 2 million that the lawyer couldn’t live in confinement for 5 years. The lawyer being young and excited got easily carried away and sacrificed his freedom for 15 years instead to prove the hold of his stand.
Anton Chekhov has brought forth the meaning of greed and pride with ease from his short story. The story begins with the banker cursing the lawyer, the bet and himself just a night before the lawyer is set to finish his side of the bet. Chekhov has written what a man can achieve when his will is set for it. Agreed, that the lawyer was there by his wishes but to complete 15 years and not go senile?
Chekhov enlightens, he educates and he carves the character of the greedy lawyer into a being who is at the other end of the spectrum. The lawyer plays music, learns languages, educates himself on theology and philosophy and medicine and ends up being a wizard. A wise man, albeit not practical people might say. But isn’t practicality only for those who do not look out for morality in business acumen or ignore the dying Sun in the late evening?
There is a letter that the lawyer writes to the banker that we’ve posted here. The story ends, shall we say, with that letter. The Bet is a short essay with a large impact. Perspective is necessary.
But then isn’t it always?