The Themes of Arrogance, Greed, and Materialism in The Bet
In Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet” two men, one a banker and the other a lawyer, begin the story arguing about whether or not capital punishment is fair. The banker is in favor of capital punishment while the lawyer contends that if offered the chance he’d take life in prison. The banker bets the lawyer two million rubles that he couldn’t survive in prison for fifteen years. The lawyer agrees to remain in the banker’s “prison” for fifteen years, and if the lawyer lasts those fifteen years he is to receive the two million rubles. Thus, the stage is set for this short, but powerful commentary on society. The themes within “The Bet;” arrogance, greed, and materialism can be found by looking at both the actions of the two main characters and the motives for those actions.
Arrogance is highly prevalent in “The Bet.” For instance, at the beginning when the banker and lawyer were arguing, the banker says, “I bet you couldn’t stay in a prison cell, even for five years.” Then the lawyer says, “Then I accept your bet, but I’ll stay not five years but fifteen.” In choosing to stay fifteen years instead of five years the lawyer is showing how strongly he supports his position that life in prison is better than the death penalty. However, by opting to stay an additional ten years the lawyer really accomplishes nothing. He wastes ten more years of his life, but he receives no extra money for doing so. In this case, the lawyer’s arrogance got him nowhere. In another case, the banker begins to openly question whether o...
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... greed shown by the banker which almost drives him to commit murder.
The underlying themes in “The Bet”, arrogance, greed, and materialism are effectively portrayed in both the banker and the lawyer. Despite the short length of the story, Anton Chekhov enables both characters to see the error of their ways. The lawyer realizes the two million rubles weren’t going to make him any happier. The banker saw that he didn’t like the selfish, materialistic person he had become when the narrator says, “Never, not even after his terrible losses in the stock market, had he felt such hatred for himself.” “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov proves to be an excellent commentary on how the want for things can corrupt a person and how society as a whole needs to place more value upon the things money cannot buy.
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