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A Short Story on Capital Punishment by Anton Chekov

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Anton Chekov

Anton Chekov is known to be a master of short stories. His writing breathes life in its prose and always makes you think. One of the most talked-about qualities of Chekov is how he shows the interesting in the mundane, the beauty of small moments, and the joy in everyday life.  It is often the simplest, yet the most incisive writing you would come across.

Due to how crisp his writing is, there is a writing principle called ‘Chekov’s Gun‘, which means that any unnecessary element in the story should be deleted. (Something which would also apply squarely to contract drafting).

Fun Fact: One of India’s foremost English writing authors, R.K. Narayan is referred to as the Indian Chekov for how similar their writing styles are.

In 1889, Chekov published a short story by the name of ‘The Bet’.  The story starts with a party. The atmosphere is lively and brimming with heated conversations. The topic of their debate: capital punishment.

One of the guests says, “execution kills instantly, life-imprisonment kills by degrees. Who is the more humane executioner, one who kills you in a few seconds or one who draws the life out of you incessantly, for years?

Another one remarks, “They’re both equally immoral..The State is not God. It has no right to take away that which it cannot give back.”

Amidst this crowd, there is a young lawyer who is steadfast in his beliefs. He says that both are immoral. But if given a choice, he would choose to live, than not live at all.

A banker, upon listening this, loses his cool. He has too much faith in his purse, and he wants to test the resolve of the young lawyer. He says he is ready to bet 2 million that the young man wouldn’t survive five years if he were to be imprisoned.

The young man wants to prove a point. He says that five is too less, he is ready to bet that he could spend fifteen years if offered 2 million in return.

They decide the terms of their wager. The young man would have to be locked in a room in the banker’s garden. He could not meet any person, cannot speak to any one, or receive the newspaper. However, he was allowed books, musical instruments, tobacco, and alcohol. Even if the young man leaves a minute before the fifteen years is to be complete, he would lose.  And thus begins the bet.

The young man has an eventful fifteen years. For the first year, he only played the piano, a few years after that he would read voraciously. Then there came a phase where he would read only one book, the Bible. He would train himself in various languages across disciplines, like science, arts, religion.

The night before the bet is to come to an end, the banker is distressed. Through the years he had lost his riches, and now he doesn’t have the money to pay to the lawyer, the man who has wasted almost spent fifteen years for this bet.

To see how he could escape out of the bet, the banker visits the lawyer in his room where he is confined…

You could read the rest of the story here. It would be best if you read the story yourself. (Do check it out, it will be worth the 15 minutes you will spend).

 

 

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