25 pages 50 minutes read

Anton Chekhov

The Bet

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1889

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Symbols & Motifs


The motif of books supports the theme of theoretical knowledge versus experience, exemplifying the first of the terms in the dichotomy. The lawyer thinks that books have taught him everything there is to know about life, helping him achieve self-realization and a (false) sense of enlightenment. This motif also supports the theme of confinement, as books are the lawyer’s only companions during his imprisonment. The lawyer’s choice of books signals his evolution, from an avid reader of books “of light content” such as “novels with complex love plots, crime or fantastic stories” and “comedies,” to a reader of more complex content such as the Bible, theology, and sciences (338-39). He jumps from self-indulgence to discipline, erratically searching for meaning. Ultimately, the constant input of knowledge through books, paired with his lack of human contact, leads the lawyer to conclude that he has lived through the pages of those books, a conclusion that reinforces his sense of superiority.


Wine symbolizes life’s enjoyment and contributes to the recurring theme of theoretical knowledge versus experience, exemplifying the latter. Wine and tobacco are among the few indulgences permitted to