What is the plot of "How much land does a man need?"  

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

nitishshah10 | Student
In this story, Pahom believes that owning land will solve all of his problems: “If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself!” The devil, overhearing this boast, decides to give Pahom his wish, seducing him with the extra land that Pahom thinks will give him security. He figures out a way to buy some. He borrows money and purchases land nearby his home. He begins farming his land but before long he is dissatisfied and desires more and more land: Pahom seeks lands from different sources. He moves his family to a land in which he can obtain 125 acres. There he obtains 125 acres and is ten times better off than he was before, and he is very pleased. Later, Pahom beomes dissatisfied and begins desiring better land. He almost clinches a deal in which he can obtain 1300 acres from a man who is in debt. Then he hears about more lush land. Through a traveling peasant from the land of the Bashkirs, Pahom learns of lush land of the Bashkirs. The peasant comes along and entices Pahom with a desire for the lush Bashkir land. Pahom becomes more selfish as the story progresses. He decides to travel to the Bashkir land. He finds that the land is lush and desirable. Pahom stikes up a deal with the Bashkirs. He can have all the land he can walk around in one day for a thousand rubles. Pahom agrees to the deal. He starts his day on top of a little hill. The deal is he has to make it back to the starting point by sundown. Pahom tries to encircle more land than he can get around in one day. By sundown, he is running to the starting point. He makes it back to the starting point but collapses and dies at sundown. His servant buries him. Pahom only needs six feet of land: As the sun comes down, Pahom runs with all his remaining strength to the spot where he began. Reaching it, he sees the chief laughing and holding his sides; he remembers his dream and breathes his last breath. Pahom’s servant picks up the spade with which Pahom had been marking his land and digs a grave in which to bury him: “Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”
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How Much Land Does a Man Need?

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