The Bet By Anton Chekhov Theme

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.

Life imprisonment is better than death

The young lawyer argues with the banker that life imprisonment is a better option than capital punishment, since any life is better than none at all. This is what motivates him to take the bankers bet. The story invites us to consider whether the lawyer is right when he claims that any life is better than none at all. No doubt, the lawyer survives his time in solitude, but when he emerges he no longer desires to interact with society. Can a life without the urge to interact with others truly be a valuable life? Can we even imagine what such a life would truly consist in?

There are three prominent examples of sacrifice in the story: the lawyer’s sacrifice of his social life for 15 years to win a bet, the banker’s sacrifice of his morality to kill and not lose the wager he can no longer pay and the lawyer’s sacrifice of his winnings to be a man unaffected by material possessions. Ironically, while the lawyer frees himself of the corrupting power of money during his experience, the banker becomes so corrupted he convinces himself he should kill the lawyer to avoid paying. ADVERTISEMENT

The value of wisdom and knowledge is apparent in the lawyer’s character. Though he is not entirely unfazed by his self-imposed isolation, he persists because he finds value in educating himself. He is empowered by his pursuit of knowledge, and he gains wisdom through his reflections. While imprisoned, the lawyer ponders the nature of life and existence, studying theological and philosophical writings, leading to further reflection. His 15 years of isolation delivers him into a new reality, far removed from everyday life in society, yet he endures through the words of others.

There are several prevalent themes in Chekhov’s “The Bet.” There are questions about the value of wisdom and knowledge, life and existence, isolation, sacrifice and the corrupting power of money.


You may have analysed by now the pertinent theme in “The Bet”, that sometimes the lure of money and the sheen of material things blind us to what is really important in life. You may have heard the saying, “All that glitters is not gold.” Similarly, sometimes we are led by our greed to possess things which have the sparkle of gold, but which are actually worthless. In the story, the lawyer was goaded by the desire to acquire wealth, but after being kept in seclusion without access to physical goods for fifteen years, he became aware of the irrelevance of these things in the broad spectrum. The story thus deals with the progressive understanding of a man about life. But this happens only when by particular circumstances he was separated from the so-called ‘real-life’ of man and was kept confined in a room for fifteen years.

The idea of renouncing material happiness is central to many religions. You certainly know about Gautama Buddha, who was a prince, but he relinquished kingly comforts to assume the life of an ascetic and thereby gain spiritual enlightenment. The Greek philosophers, Socrates and Plato, also encouraged people to give up worldly possessions in order to acquire true knowledge. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is the epitome of sacrifice for the good of the people. We must, however, understand that here human beings, in general, cannot forego all worldly happiness, but life will be worthwhile if we can devote some time to appreciate the world as God has made it instead of always hankering after money and comforts.

Chekhov has, in a very subtle way made us realise this very important aspect of life through the thought processes of his characters and this is his most distinctive quality as a writer.


What are some themes in The Bet?

  • Wisdom and Knowledge.
  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence.
  • Sacrifice.
  • Isolation.
  • Competition.

What is the meaning of The Bet by Anton Chekhov?

Answer and Explanation: The central message of “The Bet” is that giving in to greed and impulse can negatively impact one’s life.

Which statement best expresses a theme in the story The Bet?

The Bet, (1889) by Anton Chekhov, uses a philosophical argument about exploitation, greed, overconfidence, fear, and failure in a debate about whether a modern society should use the death penalty or life imprisonment as a punishment. Capital punishment kills a man at once, but lifelong imprisonment kills him slowly.

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