Analyze the role of the lawyer in “The Bet.”

The lawyer in “The Bet” is an arrogant young man who commits himself to fifteen years in solitary confinement to win a bet with a banker. The lawyer spends nearly fifteen years despairing, playing the piano, and studying, but just before the deadline, his arrogance reasserts itself. He claims to despise human life and the world, and he renounces the two million rubles and disappears minutes before he would have won the bet.

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The lawyer is a central character in Anton Chekhov's short story “The Bet,” and we can argue that his arrogant confidence leads to his downfall.

At the beginning of the story, we witness a debate between the young lawyer, who is about twenty-five at the time, and a banker. The lawyer claims that both the death penalty and life imprisonment are immoral, but he would rather have life imprisonment, arguing that life is always better than death. The banker exclaims that the young man would not last five years in solitary confinement, and if he did, the banker would pay him two million. The lawyer now gets rather cocky and quite overconfident, for he brags that he can handle “not five but fifteen years.”

Perhaps the lawyer wants the two million. Perhaps he thinks he is up for a challenge. Perhaps he wants to show how strong he is. In any case, in an instant, he has just committed fifteen years of his life to solitary confinement on nothing more than a debate and a whim. To give the man credit, though, he holds out. He nearly despairs at times. Then he plays the piano for hours. He studies voraciously, everything from science to Shakespeare to theology.

As the fifteen-year deadline approaches, the banker himself is almost at the point of despair, for he no longer has the two million to pay the lawyer, and if he must honor the bet, he will be plunged into poverty. On the night before the deadline, the banker slips into the room where the lawyer has stayed alone for fifteen years. He isn't quite sure what he is going to do, but he is desperate. He finds the lawyer asleep at a table, only a shadow of the man he once was. Before him lies a piece of paper on which he has written about how much he has studied and how wise he feels he now is. His arrogance asserts itself when he declares how much he now despises the world and human life. He no longer wants the two million and claims that he will leave five minutes before the deadline. This new manifestation of arrogance, however, leads to great relief for the banker, who goes out weeping. The lawyer keeps his promise and disappears, never to be seen again, and we are left wondering if the biggest thing he has lost during his confinement is himself.

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