Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Bet

The Bet is an 1889 short story by Anton Chekhov. It begins,
It was a dark autumn night. The old banker was walking up and down his study and remembering how, fifteen years before, he had given a party one autumn evening. There had been many clever men there, and there had been interesting conversations. Among other things they had talked of capital punishment. The majority of the guests, among whom were many journalists and intellectual men, disapproved of the death penalty. They considered that form of punishment out of date, immoral, and unsuitable for Christian States. In the opinion of some of them the death penalty ought to be replaced everywhere by imprisonment for life. "I don't agree with you," said their host the banker. "I have not tried either the death penalty or imprisonment for life, but if one may judge a priori, the death penalty is more moral and more humane than imprisonment for life. Capital punishment kills a man at once, but lifelong imprisonment kills him slowly. Which executioner is the more humane, he who kills you in a few minutes or he who drags the life out of you in the course of many years?"

"Both are equally immoral," observed one of the guests, "for they both have the same object - to take away life. The State is not God. It has not the right to take away what it cannot restore when it wants to."

Among the guests was a young lawyer, a young man of five-and-twenty. When he was asked his opinion, he said:

"The death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoral, but if I had to choose between the death penalty and imprisonment for life, I would certainly choose the second. To live anyhow is better than not at all."

A lively discussion arose. The banker, who was younger and more nervous in those days, was suddenly carried away by excitement; he struck the table with his fist and shouted at the young man:

"It's not true! I'll bet you two million you wouldn't stay in solitary confinement for five years."

"If you mean that in earnest," said the young man, "I'll take the bet, but I would stay not five but fifteen years."
You can read the entire story online here.

You can listen to it here:

There's a twist ending.


  1. What an ending. I can't possibly imagine spending all that time in a prison for nothing more than to prove a point. This was amazing.

    1. Yes, he wanted to prove something to himself, I think

  2. I remember a story similar to this on Twilight Zone or one of those shows. It was a bet that involved not speaking and being caged up where people could see him and talk to him, as I recall.

    Okay had to search on youtube. Found a clip from the end!

    1. Wow! It looks like this had to have been based (loosely enough, but still) on Chekhov's story. Thx! :)