The Bet By Anton Chekhov Theme Essay

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Summary: In Anton Chekhov's short story "The Bet," a lawyer and a banker agree to a $2 million bet in which the lawyer would spend fifteen years in solitary confinement. While the banker remained concerned primarily about the money, the lawyer eventually relinquished the bet, having found the true meaning of life and the insignificance of the money during his confinement. Through this story, Chekhov demonstrates a belief that the power and capacity for learning exists within the individual, and it isn't something that can happen to everyone.


"The power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already," A line from the Allegory of the Den in which Plato expresses his views that learning must come from within. He believed that it's not possible to put knowledge into the soul which wasn't there before because its like putting "sight into blind eyes." The prisoner that escaped the den and discovered something that couldn't be understood or explained to anyone, except him is an example of this. The prisoner had experienced something so different than the rest that no matter what, all the other prisoners wouldn't have the capacity to comprehend any of his views and where he was coming from. This theme is also seen in The Bet, were Chekhov uses the story of the lawyer and the banker to demonstrate a belief that the power and capacity for learning exists within the individual, and...

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The topic of your essay is the theme of Anton Chekov's "The Bet." When explaining the theme, please indicate three techniques the author uses in order to expose or show his theme.

I will add five points to your grade if you have a rough draft examined and signed by a writing tutor.

The following ideas are incomplete are meant to start a student out in developing a topic. The more familiar you are with the story, the better you will be in taking an idea you find below and developing it into an essay topic. You might find that you strongly disagree with the idea. This is also a good start in developing a topic.
Some people need material things and don't understand other ways of thinking. These people will not try to understand how someone could live without material goods. Others do not need materials or money and think that there are things more important to life than just money. These people might despise people's obsession with materialism. 
Two people can be the same and totally different at the same time. These people can pursue opposite goals, but they the way they pursue these goals may be the same. (Dennis W., Class of  '04)
A person does not have to be one extreme or the other, as the banker and the lawyer are. He can be somewhere in the middle. In this theme, the two characters represent two extremes of one personality. (Alicia E. Class of '04)
Chekov seems to be using his characters to show a contrast between the Eastern and Western philosophies. (Jeremy B., Class of '04).  While this is interesting, a knowledge of eastern and western philosophies is needed to continue to explore this theme.
Also by Jeremy B. Class or '04 is the idea that Chekov is trying to show a conflict between capitalism, symbolized by the Banker, and anarchy, symbolized by the Lawyer.
Some people can do more confined with their imaginations than others can do when they are free and in the world.
Life without material goods can still be good.
Techniques for Exposing the Theme:
Anonymous Characters: Neither of the characters are ever named and are simply called by his profession. This tends to lend a universality to the characters. It is as if either one or both could be someone the reader knows or maybe the reader herself. Therefore, what Chekov says about the character or how he has the character behave, may expose his theme for his story.

In a possible paragraph about the use of anonymous characters in  this story, here are some thoughts offered by students in class:

Chekov uses anonymous characters to make it seem as if it is not just one person he is writing about but about people in general.
Readers can relate to anonymous characters.

Chekov makes readers see the whole picture and not the individuals because he wants to focus on the conflict. He does this by using characters with no name.

Usually two people make a conflict, but in this case the two characters are subordinate to the conflict. (Alleigh. G., Class of '04)
Symbols: Both the Banker and the Lawyer seem to represent  much more complicated ideas. One of the keys to what each represents is the title each is given. The Banker is materialistic and sees the world in terms of what he can acquire or what he can keep. The Lawyer is not materialistic and prefers to follow a path of discovery rather than acquisition, but his fault is that he lives by rules or laws. Either believe in what he believes or he will despise you. Each symbolizes a way of thinking, an attitude.
Static and Dynamic Characters: Chekov contrasts his characters by making one static, or unchanging, and the other he makes dynamic. The Banker has never changed because he is unwilling to give up the material possession with which he surrounds himself. He is so unwilling to change that he will kill the lawyer in order to keep what he has. In contrast, the Lawyer grows throughout the story. In the beginning he wants the two million rubles, but at the end he despises anyone who would seek to acquire mere money.

Conflict: If the two characters of Lawyer and the Banker are meant to symbolize two sides to one personality, then Chekov adds the conflict to indicate the choices and decisions that have to be made in order to live a life. (Jessica P. Class of  '04)

Model for Essay Construction


Paragraph 1

Introduction

·Include the name of the author and the title of the work in a sentence that says something substantial.

·Include what the theme of the story is. Be explicit. Be very clear. Explain it fully in several sentences. If you only take one sentence to state the theme of the story, you have missed much.

·List the techniques the author uses to show the theme. Use at least three. Mention the techniques briefly in no more than a sentence or two.

·Try to have a sentence that logically makes a transition into the next paragraph.

Paragraph 2 – 3 – 4

Your three body paragraphs. In each paragraph:

·Discuss the first technique used by the author fully.

·Explain this as if you are writing to a person who has read the story, but has never set foot in the class and may not know the terms you are using.

·Explain everything.

·In your first draft try to write as simply and straightforwardly as possible. You can combine sentences later in your good copy.

·Use quotes from the book to support your ideas. (Ex. If you say that a character is static, can you prove this with a good quote from the story? Give the page number where the quote was found in parentheses.)

·Try to make a transition to the next paragraph.

Paragraph 5

Your Conclusion

·Conclusion does not mean Ending

·From all the things you have written about your author and the techniques used, what do you conclude?

·Here are some examples of topics for a conclusion:

oBased on what you wrote and read, why do you think the author wrote the story?

oBased on what you wrote and read, do you agree with the author?

oBased on what you wrote and read, do you think the theme could teach a person an important idea?

oBased on what you wrote and read, is the theme important enough to read about?

oBased on what you wrote and read, does the story successfully expose or show the theme?

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