In "The Bet" by Anton Chekhov, what is the banker's opinion concerning capital punishment?


The Bet

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“The Bet” by Anton Chekhov provides an interesting situation. The story begins with a party. The men in attendance are discussing capital punishment versus life imprisonment.

The author describes the men who were debating as intellectual men who had strong opinions one way or the other.  Most of the men did not like the death penalty because it took a life. The logic in their stance was that in a Christian state this punishment was no longer valid.

The host of the gathering was an extremely wealthy, millionaire banker.  He disagreed with the aforementioned opinion:

"I have not tried either the death penalty or imprisonment for life, but if one may judge a priori, 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.

He ended his dissertation with the question: Which is more humane---to kill someone in a few minutes or to drag out his death over the course of his life?

One of the guests advanced the theory that both are wrong because the purpose of both is to take a life. The government should not have the authority to take something that it cannot give back.

The next to speak was a young lawyer who stated:

"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."

From this difference of opinions, the banker enthusiastically offers the lawyer a proposition. If the young lawyer can stay in solitary confinement for five years, the banker will give him two million dollars.  The lawyer takes the bet but says that he will stay for fifteen years.

Both men have lost their way in the discussion which should have stopped there.  In the end, the banker and the lawyer suffer for their ridiculous acceptance of the bet.


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