What is an example of human nature in Leo Tolstoy's short story "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The term human nature refers to the ways in which people naturally behave, feel, and think, without any influences from society. These are behaviors, feelings, and thoughts that all human beings share, regardless of culture. One element of human nature found in Leo Tolstoy's short story "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" is greed.

At first, the protagonist Poham only wants to own enough land to bring him financial security. When he hears his wife and sister-in-law bickering about which life is better, the peasant life or the urban life, Poham thinks to himself, "Our only trouble is that we haven't land enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn't fear the Devil himself!" (Ch. 1). Land brings financial prosperity; therefore, in saying the above, he is saying that if he had enough financial prosperity, he wouldn't be tempted into sinful behaviors by the Devil. Yet, the more land he acquires, the greedier he becomes.

At first, he purchases 40 acres from a wealthy landowner, along with other peasants in the village. But, when the neighbors begin quarreling and moving elsewhere, he imagines himself buying up his neighbors' land as well. This vision lasts until a peasant from the other side of the Volga comes to visit and tells him about all of the fertile, inexpensive land there. The peasant tempts him with the following:

The land was so good, he said, that the rye sown on it grew as high as a horse, and so thick that five cuts of sickle made a sheaf. One peasant, he said, had brought nothing with him but his bare hands, and now he had six horses and two cows of his own. (Ch. 3)

After hearing this, Pahom's greed for prosperity drives him to purchase 125 acres across the Volga; then, he nearly settles a contract to purchase another 1300 acres to grow more wheat. Either of these purchases could have provided him with plenty. Yet, his greed does not allow him to stop there. Instead, once he hears that inexpensive, fertile land could be purchased from the Bashkirs, he makes yet another deal that costs him his life.

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How Much Land Does a Man Need?

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