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The Bet

The Bet

by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

Analysis: Writing Style

Calm, Deliberate, Concise

The second part of the short story features an attempted murder. The banker, skulking through the shadows, creeps up on the lawyer fully intending to kill him and make it look like an accident.

What do we assume the writing of this scene would sound like? Suspense! Thrills! Chills! Gasps of anticipation! But what do we get instead? A writing style that extinguishes all our excitement like a bucket of water:

Going to the spot where the lodge stood, he twice called the watchman. No answer followed. Evidently the watchman had sought shelter from the weather, and was now asleep somewhere either in the kitchen or in the greenhouse. […] He felt in the darkness for the steps and the door, and went into the entry of the lodge. Then he groped his way into a little passage and lighted a match. There was not a soul there. There was a bedstead with no bedding on it, and in the corner there was a dark cast-iron stove. The seals on the door leading to the prisoner's rooms were intact. (2.6-7)

Check out how even when the action is at its most tense, there are almost no adjectives or adverbs to give any flavor to the steady narration of "first he did this, then he did that." How does he call the watchman—with fear in the voice? Quietly, then louder? Trying to seem normal? Worried about getting found out? We have no idea.

And then inside the guesthouse, we get the same thing. How is he moving—carefully? Quickly? Resolutely? It doesn't really matter to the narrative, since it's just not about this guy's feelings. The style of the writing underscores that by driving the plot forward without too much concern for the emotions of the characters or of the reader.

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