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					"The Bet" by Anton Chekhov

Overview

At a dinner party in the beginning of this story, an old banker and a young lawyer argue over
whether or not "capital punishment and life imprisonment are equally immoral." To determine the
truth in this matter they decide to make a bet, agreeing that the Lawyer will live without human
contact for fifteen years, and in return, the Banker will pay him 2 million dollars. After providing
the Lawyer with a cell, innumerable books, and other comforts for fifteen years, the Banker
realizes he is about to lose the bet. Facing bankruptcy and humiliation, he decides to kill the
Lawyer. The Banker is stunned when he learns that minutes before he would have received
millions, the Lawyer renounced his prize and abandons civilization.




Issues

This story addresses

                capital punishment,
                gambling,
                greed,
                violence.




Instructional Focus

To encourage students to examine

                examples of inappropriate feelings and desires
                the consequences of gambling
                the value of self-respect
                appropriate methods of resolving internal and external conflicts




Activities

Oral Reading
Read the story aloud. Pause to identify inappropriate emotions that result in inappropriate actions.
Have students suggest the possible consequences of each. After the reading, ask students to
identify alternative reactions that may have resulted in a more favorable outcome.

Class Discussion
Use the following questions as springboards to solutions:
               What emotions and desires motivate the Lawyer and the Banker to make such a
                bet? What does engaging in such a bet reveal about each of the characters? Are
                these appropriate emotions and desires? Why or why not?
               Do these characters respect themselves? Why or why not?
               Do the Banker and the Lawyer respect each other? Why or why not?
               Could the bet have led to a positive outcome?
               What are the drawbacks of gambling in general? Are there appropriate forms of
                gambling?
               During his confinement, the Lawyer had the opportunity to read and learn about
                the world. Meanwhile, the Banker had the opportunity to experience many
                pleasures in the world. In the end, both were driven to desperation. One man
                was willing to commit murder, the other despised "all the blessings of the world."
                What actions could either of these characters taken that would have helped them
                avoid this outcome?
               Could anyone else in the story have taken an action that would have prevented
                this outcome?




Personal Perspective
Ask student pairs to share experiences. Have them focus on events that forced them to
reevaluate their perspective. Have pairs work to identify the causes for the misperception. Ask
them to evaluate the resulting "new" perception. For instance, a student's original perception may
have been that there was no such thing as prejudice. Then the student moved to a new
neighborhood where he/she became a minority. The student realized the inaccuracy of the
original perception when he/she became a victim of prejudice.

Lottery: Winner or Loser
Formal debate is one method for determining the policies which deal with difficult political issues
such as criminal justice, education, and taxes. In groups of four or more, have students determine
whether or not the state governments should continue to run a lottery. Have half the group gather
and arrange evidence in support of the lottery and the other half of the group gather and arrange
evidence against it. Remind students to discuss possible counter arguments also. Finally, have
students present their debates and evaluate individual performances based on organization,
evidence, and presentation.

Memories of the Rich and Infamous
In pairs, have students record a radio interview between the Banker and an investigative
journalist. The interview should be set in the year 1905, twenty years after the Lawyer vanished
from his cell. The interview should contain a summary of the events of the story and the Banker's
reflections on the lessons of these events. Encourage students to develop questions and answers
that illustrate the Banker's thinking about the moral issues involved in the bet.




Real World Connection

Have students research supreme court rulings regarding capital punishment. Then have them
select a case and identify the arguments for and against it by creating a brief outline of the main
points. Encourage students to use a dictionary or a thesaurus to define unfamiliar words. Have
students share their findings in small groups.
Anton Chekhov Biography

Author and playwright Anton Chekhov was born on January 29,1860 in the Russian town
of Taganrog. He was the third of six children who managed to survive in a difficult time.
His father, Pavel, ran a grocery store and was the director of a parish choir – plus an
abusive man who beat his children and his wife regularly. Chekhov’s mother, conversely,
excelled in storytelling and excited her children with tales from every corner of Russia.

Despite being Russian Chekhov, attended a school intended for Greek boys, and later
moved on to the Taganrog gymnasium, which actually kept him back a year when he
failed a Greek exam. He didn't have a happy childhood, as he and his siblings feared the
tyranny of his father – so much so that when his brother Alexander later ill-treated his
wife, Chekhov berated him with reminders that their father had acted similarly.

In 1876 Chekhov’s father found himself bankrupt after trying to build a new house
beyond his means, and he fled to Moscow to avoid debtor’s prison. Chekhov himself was
left behind to complete his education and sell what was left of their possessions in
Taganrog. He stayed there for three years, paying for board and education through
tutoring and other odd jobs. In this time he discovered his gift for writing, as well; but
by 1879 he’d rejoined his family in Moscow, and gained admission to medical school.

To pay for his family and himself Chekhov wrote daily, biting, humorous sketches about
Russian life on the streets, earning him quite a reputation. Soon enough, despite his
status as a qualified physician as of 1884, Chekhov was making most of his money from
writing (he usually treated patients for free, especially the poor). By 1885 and 1886,
however, Chekhov found himself the victim of tuberculosis, which he was forced to hide
from his family.

His fame grew. Chekhov found himself writing for more and more prestigious papers
and periodicals, allowing him to better fund his family and move up in the world. His
short stories were drawing real attention from the literary world, and he began to travel
– not only to inspire himself and see the world, but to help recuperate from his recurring
tuberculosis, which would also claim his brother Nikolai.

By 1892 Chekhov had purchased an estate south of Moscow , and spent much of his
time either writing or improving the surrounding area by erecting schools, a clinic and a
fire station for the inhabitants. He continued to treat patients despite his own
tuberculosis. But by 1897 he suffered a hemorrhage in his lungs and, forced to enter a
clinic, was officially diagnosed with tuberculosis. He erected a new villa to live in after
his father died in 1899 and moved there, cutting down on his patients and focusing
more on writing.

But his writing did not come as easily as it had before. What’s more, Chekhov – a
notorious bachelor – found himself married in 1901 to Olga Knipper. They lived apart, as
Chekhov had no great love of marriages.

By 1904 Chekhov was dangerously ill, and he died in July of the same year while in the
German town of Badenweiler . He was only 44 years old.

				
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