Last Updated September 5, 2023.
There are really only two major characters in this story: the unnamed banker and the unnamed lawyer. At a party hosted by the banker fifteen years prior to the story’s present, the guests discussed the issue of the death penalty and whether it is more humane to subject someone to capital punishment or to life imprisonment. Most of the guests expressed their belief that life imprisonment is better, and the lawyer said that he, himself, would much rather endure life imprisonment than the death penalty because any life at all is better than no life. The banker thought this was a ludicrous position, one that would not be borne out by reality, and so he bet the lawyer a large sum of money that the lawyer would not last five years in solitary confinement. The lawyer responded that not only would he accept the bet, but that he would remain in this confinement for fifteen years.
The banker has grown up some since the placing of this bet. He realizes now that the bet has no real purpose or meaning. Regardless of who wins the bet, nothing is definitively proven by it. The lawyer will have lost fifteen years of his life and the banker will lose any remaining money he now has. Having lost a lot of his wealth on the stock market, the banker is now near ruin. He realizes that he was pampered and capricious then and that he cannot allow the lawyer to win the bet. He decides to murder the lawyer so that he will not have to pay the money and subject himself to financial ruin, but when he sneaks into the man’s cell, he discovers that the lawyer is planning to reject the prize money anyway. At this point, the banker feels contemptuous of himself, perhaps recognizing how mere money was enough to compel him to attempt to murder an innocent person who had already lost so much.
The lawyer has been through many different stages, and he has ended up in a place where he essentially despises humanity and everything that humanity cherishes. This includes money, which may be understandable given the circumstances, but it also includes wisdom itself. The lawyer, then, seems to have lost his own humanity during the course of his confinement. It’s not really clear if or how he will ever be able to feel happiness again or if he will simply spend the rest of his life despising humanity.