The Value of Human Life in The Bet by Anton Chekhov

The Value of Human Life in The Bet by Anton Chekhov

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In the short story “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov a wager is made that changes the lives of two people. The story begins with a heated argument at a party over which is more moral, capital punishment or life imprisonment. The host of the party, the banker, believes that capital punishment is more moral because the death sentence kills the victim quicker rather than dragging out the process. A twenty-five year old lawyer at the party responds, saying, he would choose the life sentence to be more moral because any life is better than no life at all. Hearing this response causes the banker to bet the lawyer two million dollars that the lawyer can not last five years in solitary confinement. The lawyer accepts the wager, but pushes it to fifteen years in hopes of making a point. The terms of the wager are that the lawyer is to live in solitary confinement without any human interaction for fifteen years, but is granted any books, music, wine, etc. that he wants. As the fifteen years pass, the lawyer discovers the significance of human life. Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet” emphasizes the idea that the life of a human is far more valuable than money.

The perceived value of money is misconstrued by numerous people. As illustrated in the story, people can look too highly upon money. The banker praises his money and enjoys his wealth deeply, but by the end of the story, the investor luck has changed. Having lost his fortunes, he believes his only chance of surviving in the world is if he holds onto as much money as he can. This desperation causes the banker to fret over the day he has to pay the lawyer two million dollars. The banker absolutely opposes giving up his money; therefore, the banker is willing to kill the lawyer so that the contract is void. This plan shows the banker valued his money above everything else, even another human.

In real life, many people believe that once they have money can answer problems. They might inherit a large sum of money and then feel as though they never need to work again. Little do they know that there is more to life than money. Moreover, complete satisfaction and life’s answers can not come from money alone. Joy and satisfaction come from the priceless moments in life such as the birth of a child.

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In addition, pure greed corrupts the value of money.

At the beginning of the story the lawyer is being greedy when he accepts the bet with the banker. This acceptation is a foolish act by the lawyer because he falsely believes due to greed that the value of the money won in the bet will compensate for 15 years of imprisonment. The imprisonment later proves not to be worth the money as the lawyer breaks the contract in order to disqualify himself from receiving the money. Many people in real life are constantly looking to make more and more money. Businessmen who live at their work can not see beyond the dollar signs. They will work around the clock in hopes of making more money. Greed can control their mind until all they have left is money. Once that brainwash occurs, money does not look as valuable as it did.

The value of a human life is immeasurable. As exemplified in the story, human life outweighs the value of money. The lawyer demonstrates his understanding that the value of human life is greater than the value of money when he contemplates whether or not he should accept the two million dollars upon completing the fifteen year imprisonment (gerund). This understanding shows in his letter and his act of leaving the imprisonment early. The lawyer only wants his life back when he gets out (adverb clause). It does not matter to him if he has the money because he knows that the money will not make him a better person if he accepts it; instead, it simply will only make him richer.

In the real world, many people after prison or being away from family and friends for a long time only wish to return to their lives with their families. What they missed while they were gone was not the money that they had acquired but the relationships and feelings that came with their life. The money they had was just a bonus. Ask one sensible father to pick between two million dollars or his son - there is no question the father would pick his son. There is no dollar amount for a human because money can be replaced, but a life can not be replaced. This preference for human interaction before money shows that the value of a human is greater than that of money. Furthermore, human life outweighs materialistic values like books and music. With the bet that the lawyer makes, he is granted the ability to have anything in his cell that he wants except human communication. The lawyer has numerous books brought to him with which he teaches himself foreign languages, philosophy, and history. He even teaches himself to play the piano. Despite these materials accompanying him during confinement, the lawyer suffers. He has no life or human interaction, causing him to feel alone and depressed. This is very similar to when I moved into the Bloomington/Normal area.

When I left my previous town, Springfield, I had to leave all my friends behind, but I was able to bring all my items with me to my new house. These items, however, did not create much comfort for me. I only wanted to make friends and be social. This drastic change in my lifestyle affected me to a point that I felt lost and unaware of what to do. As I made friends, my mood and overall life improved. This change caused from moving cities illustrates that the power of human life is more valuable than the value of material items.

In Chekhov’s “The Bet”, human life shows to be more valuable than money. As the story progresses, the lawyer recognizes that money is put on a pedestal through greed. He spends fifteen years in prison without a life but leaves knowing that money and material items mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. While imprisoned the lawyer has every material item he wants, and he grows very wise and talented. This wisdom and talent is worthless to him, however, since he has no life. The lawyer reaches the conclusion that the only thing that should be of value in this world is human life.
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