What is the plot of "How much land does a man need?"
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What is interesting about this story is that it appears to be more of a parable than a tale - it can be read as an allegory, though we always need to be careful when interpreting allegories. The tale begins when Pahom, a Russian peasant, overhears his wife and her sister having an argument over whether it is better to live in the country or the city. This leads Pahom to make the dangerous declaration that if he just had enough land, he would not even have to fear the Devil. Of course, the Devil hears this boast and decides to put this to the test and exploit the greed of Pahom. The story relates Pahom´s success in buying land, yet also his dissatisfaction. He is seen to treat the peasants as badly as he was once treated, and continues to buy more and more land, but it is never enough. One day, a travelling merchant tells Pahom about the Bashkir region, where very fertile ground can be purchased very cheaply. Pahom, led by greed, travels there with all his money - 1000 rubles. The Bashkirs agree to sell him for this sum as much money as he can pace off in a day, as long as he returns before the end of day to his starting point. Pahom walks far, trying to get as much land as possible, but in his rush to get back to the beginning he collapses and dies. He ends up with six feet of land - enough to bury him.
This masterful story thus deals with the central question - how much is enough for us, and what is the difference between what we need and what we want? Tolstoy was writing after serfs in Russia had been given their freedom, and although he didn´t want them to return to their oppressed state, his tale seems to question how we use our freedom and our liberty and into what we put our energies.
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