The Bet Literary Elements

The Bet Literary Elements


Political Philosophy

Setting and Context

A banker's house and lodge in Russia in 1885 with a flashback to 1870.

Narrator and Point of View

The story is written in the third person point of view with limited omniscience into the mind of the banker. It is through the limited engagement inside the banker's head that we are given subjective entry into the mental state of the prisoner.

Tone and Mood

The tone of this story is matter-of-fact and presented with limited literary flourishes. The result is a mood lacking in any sort of overriding emotional register that the reader can latch onto as a means of discovering keys to any secret meaning.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: The banker and the lawyer. Antagonist: The banker. Both characters are lacking requisite traits usually found in heroes but when all is said and done, the banker far outweighs the lawyer in traits associated with outright villainy.

Major Conflict

The Bet manages to sneak in a surprising number of conflicts within its short length. The primary conflict driving the narrative is good old-fashioned man v. man in the form of the competition of banker versus lawyer. The foundation supporting that heavy conflict is the more subtly drawn conflict between the values placed on a human life held by the lawyer and the banker. Ultimately, the result of these conflicts is yet another: the lawyer in conflict against himself over what he really believes on the subject of the value of a life.


The banker enters the prisoner's lodge with the intent to murder the lawyer. Just in time to save a world of trouble, he discovers a letter in which the lawyers announces his decision to renounce the world of material wealth and forfeit the bet that has ultimately driven the banker nearly to the point of homicide by exiting five hours ahead of the deadline.


The entire beginning of the story foreshadows the end as a result of Chekhov kicking off the narrative with a flashback to the origin and stipulation of conditions of the bet. A second flashback revealing the conditions under which the prisoner has been living also acts to foreshadow the eventual climactic events.


Everything about "The Bet" is an exercise in understatement. Although the plot revolves the highly contentious debate over the humanity of capital punishment (or the lack thereof) the story is surprisingly free of fiery didactic confrontations between opposing viewpoints. A story of self-imposed imprisonment when no crime has been committed that spans fifteen years features understated, dry, objective descriptions and dialogue utterly at odds with conventional expectations.


The lawyer passes the time he has agreed to become a prisoner by requesting books in an attempt to fill time as well as take advantage of a unique opportunity to devote himself to acquiring knowledge. References to the books he's read make direct allusions to the writings of Byron and Shakespeare, the gospels of the New Testament and the siren songs of ancient Greek myth.


One of the rare instances of imagery found in "The Bet" is also one of its most memorable descriptions of the prisoner's state of mind by the banker: "His reading suggested a man swimming in the sea among the wreckage of his ship, and trying to save his life by greedily clutching first at one spar and then at another.


The lawyer made the bet as a way to prove beyond all doubt that life lived under any conditions can be valued at a minimum of two million rubles, but paradoxically proves instead that two million rubles has no actual value for a life lived under any conditions since life under all those conditions will eventually be extinguished.


Chekhov engages parallelism more for thematic purpose than for sentence construction. The rise and fall and changes in fortune and attitudes of the two characters are paralleled to a much greater extent than any individual sentences or paragraphs.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

As an example of objective and direct prose, "The Bet" is absent these and many other examples of metaphor-based literary devices.


The closet the story comes to engaging personification as a literary device is this description of the prisoner by the banker as the end of the fifteen year confinement draws to a close: "Before the table sat a man, unlike an ordinary human being. It was a skeleton, with tight-drawn skin, with long curly hair like a woman's, and a shaggy beard."

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