The Bet

The Lawyer Character Analysis

Just 25 years old when he attends the banker’s party at the beginning of the story, the lawyer initially asserts that life-imprisonment is far preferable to capital punishment. He proves as reckless as the banker in agreeing to the bet and foolish in lengthening his sentence for the sake of some misplaced pride. Unlike the banker, however, he is not responsible for anyone’s safety but his own. He evolves as the years go by in his cell, eventually committing to reading as much as he can and sharpening his mind. By the end of his 15-year term he is a completely changed man—extremely learned yet completely dismissive of all earthly things, insisting that they are misleading mirages that blind human beings to the transience of life. He is resentful of others and sees himself as above those who have “bartered heaven for earth”—that is, who are living in sin. The banker notes that the lawyer is so emaciated by the end of his sentence that he is hard to look at, prematurely aged, and appears ill. This outward appearance contrasts with the lawyer’s own belief that he has bettered himself. He ultimately renounces the bet by escaping his cell just five hours before he would be awarded his winnings.

The Lawyer Quotes in The Bet

The The Bet quotes below are all either spoken by The Lawyer or refer to The Lawyer. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Green Bird edition of The Bet published in 2017.
Part 1 Quotes

“I myself have experienced neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment, but if one may judge a priori, then in my opinion capital punishment is more moral and more humane than imprisonment. Execution kills instantly, life-imprisonment kills by degrees. Who is the more humane executioner, one who kills you in a few seconds or one who draws the life out of you incessantly, for years?"

Related Characters: The Banker (speaker), The Lawyer
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
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"Capital punishment and life-imprisonment are equally immoral; but if I were offered the choice between them, I would certainly choose the second. It's better to live somehow than not to live at all."

Related Characters: The Lawyer (speaker), The Banker
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

"Why did I make this bet? What's the good? The lawyer loses fifteen years of his life and I throw away two million. Will it convince people that capital punishment is worse or better than imprisonment for life? No, no! all stuff and rubbish. On my part, it was the caprice of a well-fed man; on the lawyer's pure greed of gold."

Related Characters: The Banker (speaker), The Lawyer
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

During the last two years of his confinement the prisoner read an extraordinary amount, quite haphazard. Now he would apply himself to the natural sciences, then he would read Byron or Shakespeare … He read as though he were swimming in the sea among broken pieces of wreckage, and in his desire to save his life was eagerly grasping one piece after another.

Related Characters: The Lawyer
Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Part 2 Quotes

“He will take away my last farthing, marry, enjoy life, gamble on the Exchange, and I will look on like an envious beggar and hear the same words from him every day: 'I'm obliged to you for the happiness of my life. Let me help you.' No, it's too much! The only escape from bankruptcy and disgrace—is that the man should die."

Related Characters: The Banker (speaker), The Lawyer
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“Before the table sat a man, unlike an ordinary human being. It was a skeleton, with tight-drawn skin, with long curly hair like a woman's, and a shaggy beard. The color of his face was yellow, of an earthy shade; the cheeks were sunken, the back long and narrow, and the hand upon which he leaned his hairy head was so lean and skinny that it was painful to look upon. His hair was already silvering with grey, and no one who glanced at the senile emaciation of the face would have believed that he was only forty years old.”

Related Characters: The Banker, The Lawyer
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“To-morrow at twelve o'clock midnight, I shall obtain my freedom and the right to mix with people. But… [o]n my own clear conscience and before God who sees me I declare to you that I despise freedom, life, health, and all that your books call the blessings of the world.”

Related Characters: The Lawyer (speaker)
Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

"Everything is void, frail, visionary and delusive as a mirage. Though you be proud and wise and beautiful, yet will death wipe you from the face of the earth … You are mad, and gone the wrong way. You take falsehood for truth and ugliness for beauty... So do I marvel at you, who have bartered heaven for earth. I do not want to understand you.”

Related Characters: The Lawyer (speaker), The Banker
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“When he had read, the banker put the sheet on the table, kissed the head of the strange man, and began to weep … Never at any other time, not even after his terrible losses on the Exchange, had he felt such contempt for himself as now. Coming home, he lay down on his bed, but agitation and tears kept him a long time from sleeping…”

Related Characters: The Banker, The Lawyer
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“The banker instantly went with his servants to the wing and established the escape of his prisoner. To avoid unnecessary rumors he took the paper with the renunciation from the table and, on his return, locked it in his safe.”

Related Characters: The Banker, The Lawyer
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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The Lawyer Character Timeline in The Bet

The timeline below shows where the character The Lawyer appears in The Bet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
...not have the right to take away that which it cannot give back. A young lawyer then speaks up, agreeing that both punishments are equally immoral but adding that he would... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Greed, Corruption, and Idealism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
...loses his temper, bangs his fist on the table, and makes a bet with the lawyer for two million rubles that he couldn’t stay in a cell for five years. The... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
The banker further goads the lawyer over dinner, telling him to back out before it is too late. He points out... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Greed, Corruption, and Idealism Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
...the banker bemoans his decision to make this bet, because nothing has been gained: the lawyer has lost fifteen years of his life, it looks like the banker will lose two... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Fifteen years previously, the lawyer is put under strict observation in a garden wing of the banker’s house. He is... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
At first, the lawyer struggles to adjust to the loneliness and boredom of his captivity. He plays piano all... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
In the second year, the lawyer stops playing piano and starts reading classic books. By the fifth year, he is playing... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
In the sixth year, the lawyer begins to zealously study languages, philosophy, and history, reading more books than can easily be... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
In the tenth year, the lawyer reads only the New Testament. In the next two years, he reads haphazardly and randomly,... (full context)
Part 2
Greed, Corruption, and Idealism Theme Icon
It is fifteen years later and the eve of the lawyer’s release. The banker is distraught because he cannot afford to pay the two million rubles.... (full context)
Greed, Corruption, and Idealism Theme Icon
The old banker fears that the lawyer will, having won the bet, become wealthy, marry, and enjoy life the same way he... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
...enters the hall and sees that the watchman is indeed missing. He taps on the lawyer’s window but the prisoner does not stir. He cautiously opens the door. The lawyer is... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
The lawyer has written that he will receive his freedom the next day, and with it the... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Greed, Corruption, and Idealism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
All the wisdom from the books, writes the lawyer, is condensed into a little lump in his skull. He has become cleverer than almost... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Greed, Corruption, and Idealism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
The lawyer has come to hold people who appreciate earthly things in contempt, and as such he... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
The banker has begun to cry. He puts the letter down and kisses the lawyer on the head before leaving. He is full of contempt for himself, and he has... (full context)
The Meaning of Life Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
The next morning, the watchman comes running to the banker and says that the lawyer climbed through the window into the garden and escaped. The banker goes to the garden... (full context)