Short stories by Anton Chekhov. Image Credit: Amazon

“Money is worthless but knowledge and science are priceless.” This is the message that Anton Chekhov, a Russian short stories writer, wanted to convey through his story “The Bet”.

The bet is an interesting short story that was written by Anton Chekhov in 1889.

The story begins with an old banker recalling a party he organised 15 years ago. The party was attended by many intellectuals and clever men who engaged in various interesting topics, including the capital punishment. Most of the guests rejected the death penalty and labelled it as an immoral sentence, which should be replaced by life imprisonment. The banker objected to this idea and argued that death penalty is more humane and moral because it grants the man a quick death while the imprisonment for life kills slowly, which is harder.

Other guests suggested that both sentences are equally immoral as both try to take a life, that is something the State has no right to do as it is not God.

A young lawyer, who was among the quests, was asked about his opinion and he answered that both punishments were in fact equally immoral, but if he had to choose he would absolutely pick the imprisonment for life.

This idea sparked a lively discussion, and the banker was suddenly carried away with excitement. He declared it is not true and bet the lawyer two million rubles that he would not be able to stay in solitary confinement for five years. The young lawyer accepted the bet and said he would stay for 15 years instead of five.

Later in the evening, it was decided that the lawyer would spend the 15 years in a lodge in the banker’s garden. They agreed that during the 15 years, the lawyer would not be allowed to leave the lodge, to see or hear people, or to receive letter and periodicals. What he was allowed to do was to read books, write letters, to drink, and to smoke. In the lodge, there was a little window through which he could conduct any sort of relations with the outer world.

At the beginning of his confinement, the lawyer starts to suffer from depression and loneliness. However, as time passes, he starts studying vigorously. In the course of four years, the lawyer manages to read six hundred volumes on various topics, including classic literature, science and philosophy. In the final years of the imprisonment, he studies chemistry and medicine, but also spends time reading Byron and Shakespeare.

In the meantime, the banker gambles most of his fortunes and cannot decide which were bigger, his debts or his assets. He realises that the only thing that can save him from having to pay the two million were the death of the lawyer.

One day before the period of the confinement concludes, the banker decides to kill the prisoner. He finds him asleep in his cell and notices a note on the table. In the note, the lawyer declares that during the imprisonment he came to hate all the material and therefore renounces his reward. The banker was overjoyed. He kisses the lawyer on the forehead and leaves happy that he did not have to kill anyone. The next day the warden reports that the prisoner left the lodge through the window and disappeared.

In my personal view, the conclusion of the story tells us a very useful message that we are in dire need for in these days. The richness is not just by having uncalculated money, the true richness is to have right knowledge and science that lets you feel like you own the world.