by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
The Bet Life, Consciousness, and Existence Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Section.Paragraph)
"The death penalty is more moral and more humane than imprisonment for life. Capital punishment kills a man at once, but lifelong imprisonment kills him slowly. Which executioner is the more humane, he who kills you in a few minutes or he who drags the life out of you in the course of many years?" (1.2)
And there we have it, ladies and gents—one of the key themes, all spelled out for us, nice and neat: Is any kind of life better than no life at all? Is life something that's valuable in and of itself, or does quality of life matter also to figuring out whether it's better to live or die? How much access to life do you need to have to make that life worth living? Yeah, deep thoughts. And no answers.
"The death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoral, but if I had to choose between the death penalty and imprisonment for life, I would certainly choose the second. To live anyhow is better than not at all." (1.5)
This lawyer guy is really gung-ho on life. Isn't it strange how this is pretty much the only personality or character description we get about him—that he'd rather live horribly than die? It's kind of reminding Shmoop of when the bad guys that get slaughtered by the thousands in video games or action movies wear masks or face-covering helmets—to obscure their humanity somewhat. We never get to see this guy's face, so he seems a little less human, too.
"For fifteen years I have been intently studying earthly life. It is true I have not seen the earth nor men, but in your books I have drunk fragrant wine, I have sung songs, I have hunted stags and wild boars in the forests, have loved women. . . . Beauties as ethereal as clouds, created by the magic of your poets and geniuses, have visited me at night, and have whispered in my ears wonderful tales that have set my brain in a whirl. In your books I have climbed to the peaks of Elburz and Mont Blanc, and from there I have seen the sun rise and have watched it at evening flood the sky, the ocean, and the mountain-tops with gold and crimson. I have watched from there the lightning flashing over my head and cleaving the storm-clouds. I have seen green forests, fields, rivers, lakes, towns. I have heard the singing of the sirens, and the strains of the shepherds' pipes; I have touched the wings of comely devils who flew down to converse with me of God. . . . In your books I have flung myself into the bottomless pit, performed miracles, slain, burned towns, preached new religions, conquered whole kingdoms. . . . Your books have given me wisdom. All that the unresting thought of man has created in the ages is compressed into a small compass in my brain. I know that I am wiser than all of you." (2.14-15)
You know what's awesome about this? The whole books-are-a-way-to-visit-faraway-places thing is a pretty standard argument about what's so great about reading. After all, how else are you going to get to hang out with Homer or Shakespeare, you know? But here, this idea is turned sideways on its ear. Here, we get books as the only way that this man is gathering experience of the outside world. He claims that this is enough for him to know everything there is to know about everything that can be experienced—and enough for him to throw it all away. But that's a pretty staggering leap to make. Reading about what it was like in Ancient Egypt might be the closest we can get to the real thing, but is it really actually a replacement for the real thing? That's some deep philosophical stuff, yo.