"The Bet" by Anton Chekhov: Character Analysis of the Prisoner

Essay by maryllyn May 2006

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Wow! 7,883,995 minutes sure is a long time to spend in solitary confinement, and then not even hang around for the final five minutes to reclaim your prize. The title of this story is "The Bet", and is written by Anton Chekhov. In this story, a man takes part in a bet for two million dollars, under the conditions that he stays in solitary confinement for fifteen years. The man, whom we come to know as "the prisoner", stays in confinement for almost fifteen years when, with only five minutes remaining, he renounces his quest for the two million dollars. In his fifteen years of solitude, the prisoner has come to the realization that money is of no significance in comparison to the knowledge he has gained through his studies, and to prove this, he leaves just before he can claim his prize. In this story, the prisoner is persistent, intelligent, and self-motivating.

These characteristics help the reader come to terms with the decision the prisoner reveals in the end.

At the outset, we find that a primary characteristic of the prisoner is persistence. In his final letter to the jailer (the man with whom he has made the bet), the prisoner writes "Tomorrow at twelve o'clock I regain my freedom and the right to associate with other men..." This quote proves that the prisoner is persistent in that he perseveres fifteen years of solitary confinement. Fifteen years! Fifteen years without associating with another human being. Fifteen years of seclusion, with only his books, music, and wine to occupy his time. It is evident the prisoner has persistence to be able to endure under these circumstances for such an extensive period of time.

Subsequently, we find that another primary characteristic of the prisoner is his display of intelligence. In his final letter to the jailer, the prisoner writes "To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live by, I renounce the two million of which I once dreamed as of paradise and which now I despise." This quote proves the prisoners display of intelligence in that through all the knowledge he has gained through his studies, money is of no significance to him anymore. Neither is "freedom and life and health and all that in your books is called the good things of the world," writes the prisoner. The prisoner has come to the conclusion that nothing of this world suits him, and that he, himself is part of something more meaningful than the ways of the world.

Finally, we find that an additional primary characteristic of the prisoner is self-motivation. In his final letter to the jailer, the prisoner writes "For fifteen years I have been intently studying earthly life." This quote proves that the prisoner is self-motivated in that even though he has been in a secluded setting for fifteen years, he still pushed himself to learn and excel in many areas of achievement. The prisoner clearly had a great sense of self motivation, since obviously there was no one else to push him to a higher level of wisdom.

In conclusion, in this story the prisoner is persistent, intelligent, and self motivating. These characteristics not only help the reader come to terms with the decision the prisoner reveals in the end, but also show how much the prisoner changes from the time he comes into solitary confinement to the end, when he departs. The prisoner is of great stature on my list of great characters. He demonstrates qualities that I would hope to encompass within myself.