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The Themes of Arrogance, Greed, and Materialism in The Bet

The Themes of Arrogance, Greed, and Materialism in The Bet

In Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet” two men, one a banker and the other a lawyer, begin the story arguing about whether or not capital punishment is fair. The banker is in favor of capital punishment while the lawyer contends that if offered the chance he’d take life in prison. The banker bets the lawyer two million rubles that he couldn’t survive in prison for fifteen years. The lawyer agrees to remain in the banker’s “prison” for fifteen years, and if the lawyer lasts those fifteen years he is to receive the two million rubles. Thus, the stage is set for this short, but powerful commentary on society. The themes within “The Bet;” arrogance, greed, and materialism can be found by looking at both the actions of the two main characters and the motives for those actions.

Arrogance is highly prevalent in “The Bet.” For instance, at the beginning when the banker and lawyer were arguing, the banker says, “I bet you couldn’t stay in a prison cell, even for five years.” Then the lawyer says, “Then I accept your bet, but I’ll stay not five years but fifteen.” In choosing to stay fifteen years instead of five years the lawyer is showing how strongly he supports his position that life in prison is better than the death penalty. However, by opting to stay an additional ten years the lawyer really accomplishes nothing. He wastes ten more years of his life, but he receives no extra money for doing so. In this case, the lawyer’s arrogance got him nowhere. In another case, the banker begins to openly question whether o…

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… greed shown by the banker which almost drives him to commit murder.

The underlying themes in “The Bet”, arrogance, greed, and materialism are effectively portrayed in both the banker and the lawyer. Despite the short length of the story, Anton Chekhov enables both characters to see the error of their ways. The lawyer realizes the two million rubles weren’t going to make him any happier. The banker saw that he didn’t like the selfish, materialistic person he had become when the narrator says, “Never, not even after his terrible losses in the stock market, had he felt such hatred for himself.” “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov proves to be an excellent commentary on how the want for things can corrupt a person and how society as a whole needs to place more value upon the things money cannot buy.

Poor Assumptions and Flawed Conclusions of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

During the period when Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness was written, a common theme in literature was the testing of the moral life through actual experience. One could not realize an ethical principle without it being justified through the outcome of some practical conflict. This idea of testing morality through experience is exactly what is presented in Conrad’s novel as Marlow’s journey results in a trial that not only defines his own beliefs but allows him to make a rather pessimistic conclusion on the morality of mankind. This realization comes about through the author’s double presentation of imperialism in which it is both glorified and criticized. Marlow begins his narration with a vague position on the issue that appears to find justification for both sides. As the story progresses and Marlow begins to play a more active role in his situation, the two sides of anti-imperialism and colonization become muted. Slowly the two opposing beliefs are pressed together until the climax of the novel during Marlow’s exchange with the dying Kurtz. At this point, Marlow reaches the understanding that the differences between the two sides of the issue no longer exist for him, and although he is unwilling to continue the moral trial himself, he judges the grim outcome through the experiences of Kurtz.

Through much of the first half of the novel, Marlow attempts to remain an observer of the events around him and so he is able to offer his contradictory perceptions on the issue of imperialism. Because he takes very little deliberate action, he can pass his judgement on what he sees without actually having to take a moral stand one way or another. In fact, the journey itself, at first, began as noth…

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…ally means.”(pg.51) Marlow never actually takes the final step, he remains an observer, and so his conclusion can never really be justified.

Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness: Backgrounds and Criticisms. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1960.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Joseph Conrad. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1991.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical, 1988.

Williams, George Washington. [A Report upon the Congo – State and Country to the President of the Republic of the United States of America.]

Heart of Darkness. By Joseph Conrad 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical 1988. 87.

Tripp, Rhoda Thomas. Thesaurus of Quotations. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1970.

Achebe, Chinua [An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.]

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