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How Much Land Does a Man Need?

by Leo Tolstoy
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In "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" how does Pahom's dream foreshadow or hint at the outcome of the story?

"How Much Land Does a Man Need?" Pahom's dream foreshadows the story's outcome by providing a warning about the entire path he has taken and the fate that awaits him should he continue. The dream simultaneously looks both forwards, showing him an image of his death, and also backwards, tracing the path he has followed all the way back to its beginning, with the image of the devil.

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In Pahom's dream, he has a terrifying vision of his own death. In the dream, he hears the sound of someone chuckling outside his tent. When he steps outside to investigate who's laughing, he sees the Bashkir Chief sitting in front of the tent, holding his side and rolling about with laughter.

When Pahom approaches the chief, he asks him what he's laughing at. But all of a sudden, the chief turns into the dealer who'd recently stopped by his house and asked about his land. Then the dealer turns into a peasant from the Volga who'd long ago come to Pahom's old home. Then finally, the peasant turns into the devil, with his hoofs and horns, sitting there, chuckling. Next to him is the body of a dead man. As Pahom steps closer to see who it is, he's horrified to discover that the dead man is in fact himself.

Pahom's terrifying dream eerily foreshadows his own fate. For he will die in the land of the Bashkirs, far from his own home, as a direct consequence of his insatiable greed for land. The Bashkirs make Pahom what he believes to be the bargain of a lifetime: he can buy as much of their land as he can traverse on foot in a single day. Blinded by greed, Pahom makes the attempt but drops down dead in the process.

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In part 7, shortly before making his fatal deal with the Bashkirs, Pahom experiences an ominous (and ultimately, prophetic) dream, one that simultaneously looks both forwards (towards the story's ending) and backwards (towards its beginning) to establish Pahom's tragic fate. In the dream, he hears the sound of laughter from outside the tent and steps outside to find the Bashkir Chief. However, the second person's identity transforms before his eyes, cycling through several iterations, finally resolving with the image of the devil himself, sitting beside Pahom's own dead body.

This imagery brings the story full circle, referencing back to the short story's first chapter, in which the devil had earlier appeared. As readers would have been aware, there is ultimately something sinister about Pahom's entire rise towards greater wealth and prosperity, given that it had all been orchestrated by the devil. In this respect, as Pahom stands at the end of this journey, his dream carries him backwards, showing him the road that took him to this point, all the way back to its beginning.

At the same time, however, the dream is also a look forwards into the future and the fate that would await Pahom if he continues down this path. Remember, his bargain with the Bashkirs will prove a fatal one, with his land-greed exceeding his good sense. Pahom overstretches himself, and in the strain of trying to complete the circuit in time, he ultimately dies from the exertion. Thus, in the dream, future and past are tied together, providing Pahom a warning as to the cost of his greed and the fate that awaits him should he continue the path he has taken.

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When Pahom is at the Bashkirs' land and is about to try to mark off his plot, Pahom dreams that he hears someone laughing outside his tent. When he goes outside to see who it is, he finds that it is the Bashkir Chief. The chief then becomes the land dealer, then a peasant, and then the Devil himself. The Devil is sitting before a man who is prostrate, lying dead on the ground. Pahom realizes that the man is himself. 

This dream foreshadows Pahom's fate, as he works so hard trying to mark off his land that it kills him. In order to claim his land, he has to return to the spot where he started, but it is so hard for him that he dies upon reaching his starting place. The Devil had heard Pahom's initial claim that "If I had plenty of land, I shouldn't fear the Devil himself!" The Devil vows that he will give Pahom plenty of land but in so doing take Pahom into his power. This promise also comes true, so Pahom's dream in which the Devil is sitting before Pahom's dead body foreshadows the outcome of the story. 

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Leo Tolstoy's story "How Much Land Does One Man Need" is a parable; in this parable, Pahom has a dream after talking with the Bashkirs about acquiring land. This dream foreshadows what will happen to Pahom as it presents the characters in the dream allegorically: each of these characters has helped Pahom to succumb to temptation, and they have furthered the plan of the Devil mentioned in the exposition.

Each experience that Pahom has had with the respective characters of the dream advances his greed, underscoring the significance of the story's title. In his dream, Pahom travels backward to the origin of his greed for land: the Devil. As he dreams, Pahom envisions the Devil himself

....with hoofs and horns, sitting there and chuckling, and before him lay a man barefoot, prostrate on the ground with only trousers and a shirt on.

Then, Pahom looks and sees that the man is dead. Clearly, this dream is a last subconscious warning to Pahom to arrest his greed. Moreover, the dream symbolically summarizes the entire story.

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