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“The Bet” by Anton Chekhov

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In the short story “The Bet,” the lawyer and the banker argue and place a bet related to capital punishment. The lawyer says life imprisonment is better than death, while the banker disagrees by saying that life imprisonment kills you slowly while capital punishment kills you quickly without pain. After many years, the banker finally wins the bet after the lawyer gives up.

Some might not agree the banker won the bet, but he did. First of all, the details of the bet were outlined specifically:

“It was decided that the young man should spend the years of his captivity under the strictest supervision in one of the lodges in the banker’s garden. It was agreed that for fifteen years he should not be free to cross the threshold of the lodge, to see human beings, to hear the human voice, or to receive letters and newspapers….The agreement provided for every detail and every trifle that would make his imprisonment strictly solitary, and bound the young man to stay there exactly fifteen years, beginning from twelve o’clock of November 14, 1870, and ending at twelve o’clock November 14, 1885. The slightest attempt on his part to break the conditions, if only two minutes before the end, released the banker from the obligation to pay him two millions.”

The agreement specifically states that if the lawyer leaves before twelve o’clock on November 14, he would lose the bet. So, since the lawyer left at seven o’clock, which was five hours before the due time, he forgave his rights to the two millions, and he did not stay for fifteen years exactly, which proves he lost the bet.

It might be argued that the lawyer won the bet because he stayed for close to fifteen years. That would be a good point, but being close to something only matters if you are playing horseshoes, not if you are placing a bet. It could also be said the lawyer won the bet because he gained so much knowledge from being imprisoned that he did not need the two millions, but that is not relevant to the question of “Who Won the Bet?”. Technically or not technically, the banker won the bet fair and square.

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