Why does the banker fear being pitied by the lawyer? inThe Bet

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The banker not only dreads losing most of his remaining money to the lawyer, but he imagines how his life would be in his old age without the social status, and amenities he has always been accustomed to. He feels like a fool. He can imagine how the lawyer would not only enjoy using his money but would enjoy reminding him with disingenuous solicitude of how their positions in the world had changed. The author Anton Chekhov describes the banker's thoughts and feelings as follows:

"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, and hear from him every day the same sentence: 'I am indebted to you for the happiness of my life, let me help you!' No, it is too much! The one means of being saved from bankruptcy and disgrace is the death of that man!"

The words "like a beggar" in the above quote are especially suggestive. One of the things the banker dreads is the thought of having to accept charity from the man who had won their bet and taken all his money. The banker is a proud man. He would realize that the lawyer was offering to help him partly out of pity but partly out of the pleasure of patronizing him. By losing the bet, the banker has exposed himself to being treated like a beggar for the rest of his life. It was bad enough that the lawyer proved him wrong in assuming that the younger man could not possibly endure fifteen years of solitude; but the lawyer would be a constant reminder of the banker's own former affluence and social importance. No doubt the banker would be forced to give up his estate and live as a lodger, perhaps taking his meals with other impecunious lodgers, not unlike Balzac's famous character Père Goriot. 

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