"The Bet" tests the convictions of a lawyer who claims that any kind of life is better than no life at all by subjecting him to fifteen years of subhuman existence, trapped in a house with nothing but books for company. Although physically comfortable, the lawyer is deprived of one of the standard markers of being human—being part of a community of other humans. As time goes by, the lawyer is slowly driven to reject the rest of his human existence as well. When he forfeits victory in the bet for a life of spirituality or perhaps even suicide, the story seems to point to the idea that without interaction with others, our humanity cannot survive.
Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence
- What's going to happen to the lawyer after the story ends? Is he going to kill himself, or just go all Boo Radley on us? How do you know?
- What do you think about the banker's question—which is better, to be killed all at once by the executioner or to slowly rot away in jail? Do different answers to this question say something about the personality or character of the person answering?
- Does the experiment of the bet prove anything about the death penalty vs. life imprisonment argument from the party? Why or why not?
Chew on This
The story ends up showing that the quest for knowledge has a damaging effect on living life.
The story ends up showing that the only way to get to the true essence of life is to toss out every other aspect of existence. The tragedy is that this is obviously a totally unworkable route for most.