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Anton Chekhov’s The Bet

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I. Thesis Statement

A. The lawyer, in Anton Chekov’s The Bet, experienced a drastic mental, physical and spiritual transformation as a result of the voracious reading he engaged in while carrying out a bet that mandated fifteen years of self-isolation.

II.  Body: Main Idea

A.   Careful examination of Anton Chekhov’s The Bet reveals that the lawyer experienced six definitive stages, as his choice in books changed throughout the fifteen years of his self-isolation.

1.   Stage 1: The lawyer’s first stage occurred during his initial year of self-isolation, where he read books that were light in character, such as romance novels and fantastical stories (Chekhov 2).

  1. The lawyer primarily changed mentally during this period.   Through examination of his writings, observers inferred that he was severely lonely and depressed (Chekhov 2).

  2. During this stage, the lawyer deprived himself of wine and cigarettes.

  3. It is quite possible that his loneliness and depression were exacerbated by his reading of romantic and fantastical books, which typically depict intense and passionate human interactions.  Indeed, it is quite possible that reading about love and fantasy could have caused the recently isolated lawyer to yearn for the social interactions he had enjoyed during his previous twenty-five years of life.  

  4. During this stage, the lawyer did not play the piano.

  5. While the story did not explicitly state the reason for the silent nature of this stage, it can be assumed that reading such deep and philosophical books caused the lawyer to prefer silence as he pondered his thoughts.

  6. Perhaps Chekhov included this stage in the lawyer’s metamorphosis to comment on the mental decay that may occur when an individual does not read!

  7. In stark contrast to the third stage, the lawyer was depicted as being happy and a connected to the entire world, past and present.

  8. The lawyer seemed to enjoy this stage immensely because of his acquisition of new languages, which allowed him to find commonalities that great men throughout history shared (Chekhov 3).  During this most impactful stage, it appears that the lawyer became truly able to transcend his physical isolation from people and re-connect with the outside world in a way that he had never done before.

  9. The banker, who viewed the Gospel as simplistic, viewed the lawyer’s engrossment in it to be strange, considering that the lawyer was capable of reading more complicated books (Chekhov 3).

  10. Becoming eclectic in his literary tastes leads one to assume that the lawyer’s transformation was complete.  Through extensive reading, the lawyer had transformed from a worldly man into a man that renounced superficialities. Evidence for this statement can be extracted from the lawyer’s letter that the banker read at the end of the story (Chekhov 4).  In the letter,  the lawyer ecstatically claimed that he acquired  great wisdom during his fifteen years of isolation (Chekhov 4-5).

2.  Stage 2:  The lawyer’s second stage occurred during his second year of isolation, where he read classic literature from ancient Greek and Latin societies  (Chekhov 2).

3.  Stage 3:  The third stage of the lawyer’s transformation began in the fifth year of his self-isolation and lasted for one and a half years.  During this time period, he did not read (Chekhov 2).

a.  This stage was marked by sloth-like behavior, where he simply laid around, drank, ate, talked angrily to himself and cried (Chekhov 2).

4. Stage 4:  The lawyer’s fourth stage was the longest of the six.  This stage lasted from year 6.5 to 10 (Chekhov 3).  It was during this time period in which he immersed himself in languages, philosophy and history and read over 600 books.

5.  Stage 5:  The lawyer’s fifth stage ranged from years ten to thirteen and was a time of religious curiosity.  The lawyer was depicted as constantly reading the Gospel in a stoic and pensive manner (Chekhov 3).

6. Stage 6:  During the last of his six evolutionary stages the lawyer spent his final two years reading anything and everything he could (Chekhov 3).

III.  Conclusion

A.  The lawyer in Anton Chekhov’s The Bet gained wisdom and freedom for solitude during his fifteen year isolation because of his ever-evolving reading tastes.  Chekhov’s story prophetically demonstrates that a voracious reader is never alone in his mind, even when he is by himself! 

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