The story should be understood against the historical backdrop of the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 by the Russian Tsar Alexander II. Once the serfs had been freed from control by their former masters, many of them naturally wanted to own land for themselves. Tolstoy supported emancipation, but at the same time he was worried that it would lead to peasants somehow losing their soul, severing their almost sacred connection to the soil by treating land as nothing more than an object, an economic commodity to be bought and sold.
That's precisely how Pahom comes to look upon the ground beneath his feet. His insatiable greed for land takes him far away from his ancestral homeland, both literally and metaphorically. Though the proud owner of many acres of valuable land, Pahom is spiritually homeless, and his greed causes the death of his soul long before it leads to his physical demise.