Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.
What would you be willing to do for a lot of money? Anton Pavlovich Chekhov's 'The Bet' is a short story about two men who make a bet about whether a person could survive in solitary confinement for an extended period of time with only books to connect him to the outside world. The story offers students the opportunity to explore themes related to materialism, ethics, and criminal justice. This following questions will guide classroom discussions about this story.
This section provides questions about the argument that led to the bet and the parameters of the bet.
- The banker and the lawyer argue over whether life in prison or capital punishment is worse. What are the things that make your life worth living? Explain your answer.
- Describe the bet between the banker and the lawyer. Would you accept that bet? Why?
- The lawyer has access to food, books, and music. What the things you would ask for to take the place of human communication?
In this section, students will review how the lawyer spent his 15 years in confinement and how the banker changed during this time period.
- What are some signs of depression the lawyer initially showed? How did he lift himself out of the depression? Why does this work? What would you do if you felt depressed?
- What are some things the lawyer studied during his time in solitary confinement? If you had 15 years dedicated to learning new things, what would you choose to learn about? Why did you choose these subjects?
- How do you think the lawyer's life would be different if he had not taken the bet? What character traits led the lawyer to accept this type of bet? What types of people would adjust best to isolation? Explain your answer.
- How has the banker's financial situation changed over the 15-year period? How does the banker plan to solve his financial problems? What does this reveal about the banker? What have you learned about making bets from reading this story?
Students will discuss the conclusion of the story and the messages the author sends through this story.
- What has the lawyer learned from his time in confinement? How do you know? Do you agree with the lawyer's conclusion? Explain your answer.
- Compare the lawyer's growth over the 15-year period to the banker's growth. Why do you think there is such a discrepancy in their moral values? Where did your values originate? What might prompt a change in ethics?
- The lawyer applied what he learned in books to his life, which vastly changed the outcome of the story. What books have influenced your life? Why do you think these books had such an impact on you?
- Who won the original argument about life in prison versus the death penalty? Justify your answer using text evidence. What messages do you think the author is sending to the readers about crime and punishment?
- Would you have walked away from the money? Why? How might the story have ended differently? What do you think will happen the next time the banker and lawyer meet?
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