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The context of this story is actually incredibly important for understanding what Tolstoy is trying to communicate. The story is set in a nineteenth century Russia where feudalism has been abandoned and thus former serfs now have the right to buy their own land. This was of course a major historical moment in Russian history, where serfs were no longer treated as the property of nobles but recognised as individuals in their own right. Tolstoy in this story seriously questions the extent to which this was a good and healthy development or not.
Thus it is that this story is set in the countryside, initially with a former serf and his family who rents his land from a landowner. However, as the story develops, the setting changes to ever bigger pieces of property as Pakhom engages on his rapid and rapacious desire to gain ever greater quantities of land. Lastly, the story ends in the land of the Bashkirs, a remote tribe in Russia, who have immense land. Through allowing the setting to change throughout the story Tolstoy seriously questions whether the apparent progress of Russia had actually been entirely beneficial or not.
The setting in this story is a country-life setting. Pahom and his wife live in the village where they are surrounded by another woman's land. They live the life of a peasant:
Though a peasant's life is not a fat one, it is a long one.
We shall never grow rich, but we shall always have enough to eat."
Pahom and wife own pigs, cows, horses, etc. They farm the land that belongs to someone else.
Eventually, Pahom buys some neighboring land that is out in the country.
Pahom chose out a farm of forty acres, some of it
wooded, and went to the lady to bargain for it.
However, this land is not enough for Pahom. Ultimately, Pahom hears about and visits the Bashkirs' land. This land is rich, lush, and plentiful.
"The land lies near a river, and the whole prairie is virgin soil."
Pahom can own all of the land he can walk around in one day. Sadly enough, Pahom begins his day's walk, including more and more of the fertile land. By the day's end, Pahom is running out of time. The sun is about to set. He begins rushing toward the hill, his starting and ending point. Pahom drops dead on the site. The only land he needs now is six feet, enough to be buried in.
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