True happiness lies neither in material possessions nor in knowledge or learning: Prove this statement in the light of the story The Bet by Anton Chekhov.
“The Bet” by Anton Chekhov is a story that gives rise to more questions than it solves, they say and rightly so. This is a truly complex story that keeps the readers wondering throughout the story about what might be the themes or the messages that the writer wants to convey.
Even at the later half of the story people would continue to think that this has something to say about the capital punishment and the imprisonment for life. But the picture starts to change once we are introduced to the lawyer’s letter, or rather, note for the banker where he talks about the knowledge and wisdom he has gathered from all those books in the last fifteen years. Now it looks like the story is shaping up to deliver a message of the superiority of knowledge and wisdom over money or a materialistic life.
But when we advance with that note we find that he is not happy with all his knowledge and wisdom he has achieved through his learnings. Though he feels, he is wiser than all people around him, it does not make him happy. Rather, all his knowledge has brought him is the skepticism towards just about anything and everything. Because of his wisdom he now sees everything as a part of the higher order of this universe and it makes everything look useless, temporary, illusory for him. It is because he knows everything we think, know and do in this life would end with death. That is the greater reality that he has realized with his learnings. This has made him restless and unhappy about everything.
That is why he says in utter cynicism :
“I despise freedom and life and health, and all that in your book is called the good things of the world.”
“I despise your books, I despise wisdom and the blessings of this world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory and deceptive, like a mirage.”
“You may be proud, wise, and fine, but death will wipe you off the face of the earth as though you were no more than mice burrowing under the floor, and your posterity, your history, your immortal geniuses will burn or freeze together with the earthly globe”
“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”.
So, the lawyer has used the word ‘despise’ several times to express his distaste for the material world and this life. All it can prove is that knowledge and wisdom cannot make a man happy.
On the other hand, when it comes to money, the lawyer has voluntarily renounced the money he actually owed to the banker. It’s because he has realised that money or any such material possession is just an illusion and transitory in nature in respect to the larger order of things. So, the money won’t make him happy either.
Again, when we look at the banker, he has lost his money in gambling and is now almost a loser. His materialistic attitude and all the money couldn’t make him happy either. It has made him restless and desperate time and again. He has even thought of killing the lawyer for saving his money. And when the lawyer has forfeited the bet, he is seen to be regretful for his sinful attempt:
“At no other time, even when he had lost heavily on the Stock Exchange, had he felt so great a contempt for himself. When he got home, he lay on his bed, but his tears and emotion kept him for hours from sleeping.”
So, the old banker and the lawyer both are unhappy with their life; one for his material possessions and other for his knowledge. That is to say, the above statement that “True happiness lies neither in material possessions nor in knowledge or learning” has been the right message through Anton Chekhov’s story The Bet.