In "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" why does Pahom want to buy land from the Bashkirs?

In "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" Pahom wants to buy land from the Bashkirs because they are presenting to him what seems to be an irresistible bargain. Pahom can have as much of their land as he can traverse in a single day, all for just a thousand rubles. In his immense greed, Pahom is unable to turn down such a deal, and his unquenchable desire for more ultimately undoes him.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Tolstoy's "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" is a story that is all about greed and land hunger, with its central protagonist, Pahom, never satisfied with what he currently possesses but always driven to acquire still greater quantities of land for himself. In this way, as Tolstoy's story takes shape, Pahom is characterized as continuously looking to seize advantage of any opportunity that promises to improve his current prospects.

This brings the story to its climax, when Pahom accepts the offer from the Bashkirs, who would allow him to own as much land as he can walk around in the course of a single day (with the caveat that, should he fail to complete this circuit before time expires, all of the land would then be forfeited). For Pahom, this offer presents an extraordinary opportunity, the likes of which he is unable to resist. However, in the end, Pahom's insatiable land hunger proves to be his undoing. He overextends himself, and thus kills himself by exertion as he attempts to complete the circuit in time.

Thus, in the end of this story, Pahom meets with the Bashkirs with the aim of completing yet another land grab (one which would have promised to have been his most ambitious yet). The attempt proves fatal, however, and it leads to his destruction.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Pahom wants to acquire as much land as possible because of his greed. In the story, Pahom's sole goal in life is to acquire as much land as he can get his hands on so that he can attain wealth through it. It is a telling example of colonialism and the relentless pursuit of wealth.

The Bashkirs promise to sell him as much land as he can traverse in a single day, which, to Pahom, seems like the deal of a lifetime. What he doesn't realize is how devastating his greed will be. The Bashkirs seem to understand that his greed has already completely consumed him, and he will be unable to resist the temptation to take as much as he can. When he tries to, it leads to Pahom's demise, revealing that, no matter how much land he tried to acquire, he only needed about six feet—for his coffin.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Given what we already know about Pahom, it's not surprising that he should take up the Bashkirs on their generous offer. By this stage in the story, it's painfully obvious that Pahom is a very greedy man who's become totally obsessed with the acquisition of land. Even though he's already acquired a substantial acreage, it's still not enough. He wants more, and he appears to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get it.

The Bashkirs tell Pahom that he can have as much of their land as he can walk around in a single day, and all at an unbeatably low price. A thousand rubles, to be precise. Most people in Pahom's position would probably say no; Pahom's greed is greater than most, and many people would probably think that the Bashkirs' offer was too good to be true.

But because Pahom is utterly blinded with greed, he's not able to see this. All he sees is a great bargain and an opportunity to add to his already extensive landholdings at relatively little cost. Somewhat inevitably, Pahom's insatiable greed leads to his downfall, as he dies of exhaustion while trying to stake out as much land as possible in a single day.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on