The Bet

The Bet Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What are the respective positions of the banker and the lawyer with respect to capital punishment?

    The banker believes that the death penalty is more humane than life imprisonment and argues that no one could stand being alone for a long time. The lawyer, on the other hand, argues that the death penalty is more inhumane than life imprisonment because you are depriving someone of their life–something that you cannot give back. Therefore, life imprisonment is preferable because you will still be alive throughout, and there will always remain the chance that will be freed. This philosophical disagreement is what motivates the bet; in fact, the bet itself can be seen as an extension of this very argument.

  2. 2

    Why does the lawyer extend the bet from 5 to 15 years?

    Initially, the banker makes the bet for 5 years. He believes that the lawyer would not be able to endure 5 years of voluntary imprisonment. In the heat of the moment, the lawyer raises the stakes to fifteen years. He probably does this to prove how serious he is, and how much he believes that he is in the right. This is corroborated by the fact that he ultimately intentionally loses the bet just 5 hours before he would have won it: he makes deliberate choices in an effort to prove his commitment to his principles.

  3. 3

    Is the narrator impartial? Why or why not?

    No, the narrator imbues his opinion into his statements. When the bet is first made, the narrator calls it a "wild, senseless bet" punctuating his remarks with an exclamation point (7). The narrator is most decidedly not impartial in his descriptions of the lawyer's imprisonment, too, for he describes him with sympathy and empathy. Most deeply, the narrator is not impartial because he sometimes provides us with insights into the thoughts of the banker, which colors the overall narrative accordingly.

  4. 4

    What does the lawyer do to take solace in his time of imprisonment? How does his attention shift over the course of his imprisonment?

    The lawyer plays the piano, reads a lot of books, and learns several languages. Though he initially shies away from wine and tobacco, he later turns to them for comfort.The piano sits silent after the first year of his imprisonment, however; progressively, the lawyer focuses more on reading and the acquisition of knowledge, up to the point at which he spends an entire year reading the Gospel. Thus we could describe him as starting out focusing on comforts, and transitioning towards a total focus on enlightenment.

  5. 5

    How does the lawyer decide to conclude the bet, and why?

    At the end of the fifteen years, five hours before he would have gotten the 2 million rubles, the lawyer chooses to run away and revoke his right to the money, leaving a letter explaining himself. He has come to hate people and rejects the money on principle. This is the direct result of the learning he undertook while imprisoned: with his newfound knowledge of the world, material goods, including money, mean nothing to him, and he hates people for confusedly valuing these things so much.