25 pages 50 minutes read

Anton Chekhov

The Bet

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1889

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Important Quotes

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“Which executioner is more humane? The one who kills you in a few moments, or the one who drags life out of you over the course of many years?”

(Page 336)

The banker states this opinion in reply to the guests who find the death penalty “outdated, unsuitable to Christian states, and immoral” (336). Although the story doesn’t defend one side of the debate over the other, the idea of slowly dragging life out foreshadows what will happen to the lawyer. By the end of the story, this comment will become ironic.

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“Capital punishment and life imprisonment are equally immoral, but if I were offered the choice between execution and life in prison, I would of course choose the second. To live somehow is better than not to live at all.”

(Page 337)

The lawyer states his opinion when asked. As in the previous quote, this passage is significant because it foreshadows, in hypothetical form, the lawyer’s acceptance of the bet, introducing the story’s central question about the meaning of life.

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“If you’re serious […] I’ll bet I can sit out not five but fifteen.”

(Page 337)

The lawyer shows his arrogance and impulsiveness by raising the length of the term in the banker’s bet three times without asking for more money. He’s not driven by greed as the banker believes. As shown in this quote and his final renunciation of the two million, he’s driven by his desire to prove himself morally superior.