Discussion Questions for
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Answer the Banker's question: "Which executioner is the more humane, he who kills you in a few minutes or he who drags the life out of you in the course of many years?
What is meant by "The State is not God"?
Do you think the lawyer is right that the "death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoral"? Why or why not.
Do you agree with the lawyer that "To live anyhow is better than not at all?"
Why do you think the lawyer takes the bet? What do you think this says about this life?
Why does the narrator call the bet "wild" and "senseless"?
Why does the narrator call the lawyer an "unhappy man"? Do you think the lawyer is unhappy? Why or why not?
What does the lawyer mean when he says that "desires are the worst foes of the prisoner"? Is this true?
Why are the novels that the lawyer reads in the first year characterized as "light character"?
Why does the lawyer move from novels of "light character" to the "classics"? Is this a step up or a step down? Explain.
What are "classics"? How would they differ from novels of "light character"?
Why, after reading the classics for three years, does the lawyer act the way he does (angrily talking to himself, not reading books, throwing his writing away, crying)?
In the sixth year the lawyer devours over six hundred volumes of language, philosophy and history. Why do you think he is so motivated?
The lawyer writes in his letter, "The geniuses of all ages and of all lands speak different languages, but the same flame burns in them all." What does he mean by this? Is this true?
When the lawyer speaks of the "unearthly happiness" he feels what does he mean?
Why, after reading over six-hundred volumes in four years would the lawyer spend one year reading the Gospel (another translation renders it "New Testament")?
Why does the banker characterize the Gospel as "one think book easy of comprehension"? Is the Gospel easy to comprehend? Why or why not?
In the last two years the lawyer reads a little bit of everything. Why is this?
The narrator characterizes his reading as "a man swimming in the sea among the wreckage of his ship, and trying to save his life by greedily clutching first at one spar and then at another." What does this mean? Is this true?
Why does the banker call the bet "cursed"?
Why does the banker fear being pitied by the lawyer?
A paragraph in the second half of the story begins, "It was dark and cold in the garden. Rain was falling. A damp
cutting wind was racing about the garden, howling and giving the
trees no rest." How does this language and atmosphere relate to what is going on in the story?
The lawyer looks terrible, much older than his 40 years. Why?
Why does the lawyer write that he despises "freedom and life and health, and all that in your books is called the good things of the world"?
The lawyer writes that he has experienced all kinds of things in books: love, hunting, mountain climbing, storms, miracles, religions, wars, etc. Is reading about something the same as experiencing it? Which is better and why?
Is the lawyer proud? If so, is he too proud?
What does the lawyer mean by, "You have taken lies for truth"? Can you think of any examples of people doing this?
The lawyer marvels at those who "exchange heaven for earth"? What does he mean by this?
The lawyer once saw the two millions as "paradise," but now he despises the money. Why?
Wouldn't it have been better to take the money? Why or why not?
Why does the banker think of the lawyer as a "strange man"? Is he a "strange man"?
Why does the banker have contempt for himself after reading the lawyer's letter?
In what ways is the lawyer a different man?
In what ways is the banker a different man?
Would you take such a bet? For 5 years? For 1 year? Why or why not?
Did you like this story? Why or why not?
©2005-2013 Glen Draeger (all rights reserved)
Millstone Education: World Literature / http://www.millstoneeducation.com/worldLit