What is the irony in the story "How much land does a man require" By Leo Tolstoy?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several ironies in Tolstoy's short story "How Much Land Does a Man Require?" (traditionally translated "Need").  The first is dramatic irony, a contrast between what Pahom thinks is happening and what we (readers) know to be true.  Pahom and his wife are adamant in a discussion early in the story that living a more rural, simple life is much better than a life in the city because they are not tempted to participate in the Devil's activities so rife in the cities.  Pahom's only complaint is that he could do so much more if he had more land, and he and his family go through several moves in an attempt to attain that goal.  He boasts that he wouldn't be afraid of the Devil himself if he just had enough land.  The Devil overheard him and tricked Pahom, playing on his greed, into actions which lead to his death.  We recognize the Devil at work, but Pahom does not.

Another example of irony in this story is situational irony--a contrast between what we and the characters expectto happen and what does happen in this story. The deal which Pahom made is to pay 1,000 rubles for whatever land he can walk around in one day; after he was tricked by the Devil and beaten by his own greed, Pahom did end up with all the land he needed--literally.  Six feet of land on which to be buried.  

Ironies generally point readers to the themes of a work; in this case, that greed is no way to gain happiness, that taunting the Devil is not going to turn out well, and that all we really needis enough to meet our basic neccessities--in this case, land enough on which to be buried.    

I've included an excellent e-notes summary below, as well, which I think you'll find helpful.

rajpranjal | Student

Pakhom thinks that he  would profit from the Bakshirs

but actually the Bakshirs  used him.He believed that

with more and more land his life would become

comfortable but eventually  the "more and more" land

became the cause of all his pains and his death.

A situational irony is that Pakhom's believed

that with more and more land even the devil

could cause no harm to him but it was the devil

who  became instrumental in his death.He

believed that the Bakshirs were fools

but actually they were very cunning.

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How Much Land Does a Man Need?

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