In what ways do the banker's and the lawyer's attitudes toward the bet change as the year passes?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the years pass the banker comes more and more to regret ever having made the bet with the lawyer.

And now the banker, walking to and fro, remembered all this, and asked himself: "What was the object of that bet? What is the good of that man's losing fifteen years of his life and my throwing away two million? Can it prove that the death penalty is better or worse than imprisonment for life? No, no. It was all nonsensical and meaningless. On my part it was the caprice of a pampered man, and on his part simple greed for money ..."

The banker not only sees the stupidity and pointlessness of the bet, and he not only feels disgusted with the cruelty of keeping a man in solitary confinement for year after year, but he has been suffering financial losses, and the sum of two million rubles which he is pledged to pay his prisoner if he endures the full fifteen years imprisonment becomes a larger and larger portion of the banker's total assets. By the time the fifteen years is almost up, the two million rubles represent just about the banker's entire assets. He will be bankrupt and destitute if he has to raise that much money and hand it over to his prisoner. At one time the money meant little to him, but now it means everything.

"Cursed bet!" muttered the old man, clutching his head in despair "Why didn't the man die? He is only forty now. He will take my last penny from me, he will marry, will enjoy life, will gamble on the Exchange; while I shall look at him with envy like a beggar..."

Meanwhile, the lawyer has spent much of his time in the study of philosophy, history, languages, and religion. The two million rubles which seemed so important to him at one time have gradually come to seem less and less important. He sees that some of the world's wisest men, including Jesus Christ and Buddha, cared nothing about money. Ultimately he decides that he will not even accept the banker's two million rubles. To do so would seem like accepting payment for his solitary confinement, whereas his solitary confinement has given him great riches in the form of enlightenment and taught him to despise material things. He leaves a letter for the banker in which he tries to explain why he is rejecting the money.

"You have lost your reason and taken the wrong path. You have taken lies for truth, and hideousness for beauty....To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live by, I renounce the two million of which I once dreamed as of paradise and which now I despise. To deprive myself of the right to the money I shall go out from here five hours before the time fixed, and so break the compact ..."

It is ironic that while the two million rubles have gradually become more and more important to the banker, they have become commensurately less and less important to the lawyer. The banker is ready and willing to commit a murder to keep his two million dollars, but he finds out that his prisoner doesn't even want them. The banker ends up feeling relieved but terribly ashamed.