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How Much Land Does a Man Need?

by Leo Tolstoy

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What is a character analysis of Pahom, the main character of the story "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"

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In “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” Pahom's goal is to own land, and he follows a long path to obtain it. First, he sells some possessions, puts his son out to work, and borrows money to purchase a farm. Then he moves beyond the Volga in order to have more land. Finally, Pahom travels to the land of the Bashkirs and walks for a whole day to obtain the biggest plot of land possible.

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In Tolstoy's parable, "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" the main character named Pahom is a man who is never satisfied, a characteristic suggested in the title. He also is acquisitive, and he later becomes irrational.

  • Unsatisfied

In the beginning of the story, Pahom listens as his wife talks with her sister, who is visiting and boasting of the good life that she lives in the town where she attends the theater, eats and drinks well, and has fine clothes for her children. But, her sister contends that the agrarian life is a safe one because there will always be enough to eat while conditions can change for those who have jobs in a town. As he listens, Pahom concurs with his wife, but he adds,

"Our only trouble is that we haven't enough land. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn't fear the Devil himself!"

  • Acquisitive

Shortly after his sister-in-law's visit, Pahom has an opportunity to purchase fifty acres of land apart from the Commune. His first harvest is good, so he is able to pay off the land. " Pahom had land of his own." While he plows his own fields, Pahom's heart fills with joy. Whereas before he owned it the land appeared like other plots, now it seems to Pahom to be "quite different." Indeed, Pahom would remain content, but neighbors begin to trespass on his meadows and cornfields, and their actions disturb Pahom. Then, when he finds some of his trees cut down, Pahom decides that he must go to court against the farmer he suspects. However, he does not produce evidence enough to charge the man suspected of cutting Pahom's trees. This dispute, then, harms Pahom's standing with the Commune of farmers. 

  • Irrational 

Pahom feels cramped again, and he wants more land. So, he rents more and more land. But, problems occur again, and he "grew tired of having to rent other people's land every year." Pahom finds himself quarreling with others over the land, so much that he desires again to actually purchase land, not realizing that he has other problems within him.

Pahom searches for some land to purchase. He is ready to deal with a peasant who is willing to sell his land; however, right before Pahom signs the agreement, a dealer stops at Pahom's one day to water his horses. The men have tea, and the dealer tells Pahom about the Bashkirs, who have thousands of acres. Further, he says that all Pahom needs to do is be affable and make friends with the chiefs.

Pahom decides to go to the Bashkir camp. When he arrives, the men welcome him, and Pahom goes into a tent and drinks with them, offering them gifts. Finally, the interpreter tells Pahom,

"They wish to tell you...that they like you, and that is our custom to do all we can to please a guest and to repay him for his tell us which of the things we possess please you best, that we may present them to you."

After Pahom gives the interpreter his request, the Bashkirs confer and decide that Pahom may have as much land as he wants. When the main chief arrives, he concurs that Pahom may have land. However, Pahom must mark it off by walking the land and digging small holes so that they will know where to plough. It is Pahom's provided he can walk it in a day, returning to his starting point before the sun sets.

That night Pahom dreams that he sees the dealer who has told him about the land and he is laughing over him; then he changes to the peasant from Volga, and later it is not the peasant, but the devil himself, with horns and hoofs, scoffing at a man who lies prostrate on the ground with only a ragged shirt and pants on him. Then Pahom dreams that he looks closely at this man, who is dead..."it was himself! He awoke horror-struck."

Pahom awakens, and realizes that he must go to the Bashkirs because he needs the full day to claim his land. At first, he is reasonable, watching the time by the sun so that he will have enough time to circle around so that he can claim the land from where he started. But, even as he grows tired and hot, his greed for land overcomes him, and he irrationally changes directions so that he can claim some plot that appeals to him. Then, he worries that he has made his border too wide, and he tries to correct his design. But, afterwards, he feels that the tract will be lopsided. He grows more irrational.
At last, he realizes that he has "grasped too much" and "ruined the whole affair." Frightened that he will not make it back to his starting point, Pahom becomes breathless and his heart palpitates. He tries to run although he fears death. He runs and runs, despairing. "I have lost my life! I shall never reach that spot!" he says to himself.
As Pahom reaches the end, his legs give way beneath him; his servant tries to raise him as the chief exclaims, "He has gained much land!" But, Pahom is dead.


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Pahom is a peasant farmer in the village. He desires land of his own. In fact, he boasts that if he had enough land, he would not fear the devil himself. Pahom manages to borrow enough money to buy land of his own. At first he is content. Then he begins to desire better land. He sets out on a journey trying to buy more and more land.

Ultimately, Pahom finds himself at the land of the Bashkirs'. He can buy all the land he can walk around in one day. At sun up, Pahom sets out. He walks around lush, green land. Unfortunately, he tries to cover too much land. The deal is that Pahom gets to have all the land he can walk around from sun up to sun down. 

Pahom has become greedy. He tries to cover more land than he can comfortably cover in one day. At sun down, as Pahom nears the starting point, he falls down dead. He now only needs enough land to be buried in. Because of his greed, Pahom dies trying to gain too much land. 

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Briefly summarize what happens on the last day of Pahom's life in "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"

Pahom has become greedy and obsessed with acquiring more land. Having entered into a pact with the devil, he will eventually lose his life due to his greed.

The last day of his life begins after meeting with and making an arrangement with the Bashkirs, who own a large plot of land but are willing to sell it cheaply. Their only requirement is that, for the price of one thousand rubles, Pahom can acquire as much land as he can walk around in one day. So, he spends the entire day walking, drawing with a spade the property he wishes. He spends as much time as possible marking it off to get more and more, but, in his greed, he went too far. As the sun sets, he sprints back to the start, trying to close the circle. He succeeds but dies of exhaustion in the end, fulfilling Satan’s promise to kill him with his own greed.

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Summarize the path Pahom takes to reach his goal in "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"

In Leo Tolstoy's story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” Pahom is a peasant who develops a goal. He wants to own some land of his own. He starts out quite simply. He and his wife already have a hundred roubles saved, so they sell half their bees and a colt, put their son out to work as a laborer (claiming his wages in advance), and borrow from a relative. This gets them half of what they need, so they buy forty acres, agreeing to pay the rest of the price in two years.

Pahom now has his land, but his journey doesn't end there. For a while, Pahom is content, but pretty soon he enters into conflicts with his landless neighbors who cross his land, let their animals roam, and even cut down some trees. After speaking to a traveling peasant, Pahom sets his sights on a situation beyond the Volga River.

Pahom travels to this new land, even walking three hundred miles to get there, and he finds that he can get the land he wants. He goes home, sells everything he has, and moves his family beyond the Volga, where he thinks he now has all the land he needs.

Before too long, though, Pahom once again decides he simply does not have enough land. He has to rent too much in order to find land suitable for wheat. He decides to buy more, but then he hears about a possibility in the land of the Bashkirs. A dealer tells him that he can get thousands of acres for little money and a few gifts. Pahom decides to travel there and see.

When Pahom arrives in the land of the Bashkirs, he discovers that what the dealer says is true. The chief will allow Pahom to purchase as much land as Pahom can walk around in one day. Pahom is thrilled, and he walks and walks and walks, for three miles and then another three and then a little more. He finally turns in the next direction and goes a long way before he turns again. Since he doesn't want a lopsided plot of land, he hurries on to get through the third side of ten miles. By then it is getting late in the day, and Pahom is far from where the Bashkirs are waiting. He must run now, and he makes it back just in time. But his body cannot handle the strain, and Pahom falls dead at the chief's feet. His servant buries him in a six-foot grave, which is all the land he needs in the end.

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Give a detailed description of the life of Pahom in "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"

Pahom is a peasant who lives in a small village. He works hard tilling the land and raising crops, but is able to provide a comfortable existence for his family. In addition to corn, which is his staple crop, Pahom raises animals; among these animals are horses, cows, and bees. Pahom is blessed with a wife who is satisfied with the life they live. She says,

"Though a peasant's life is not a fat one, it is long. We shall never grow rich, but we shall always have enough to eat."

Pahom on his part is not as satisfied with things as his wife is. He acknowledges that advantages of the simple life they lead, but has a temper and frequently has run-ins with the neighboring landowners over trespassing animals and fines. In addition, he covets land, and thinks,

"If I had plenty of land, I shouldn't fear the Devil himself!"

At one point, he and his wife put together some money, selling a colt, hiring their son out to work, and borrowing the rest, so that they can buy a farm of forty acres. Pahom becomes a landowner,

"...plowing and sowing his own land, making hay on his own land, cutting his own trees, and feeding his cattle on his own pasture."

Although Pahom has to work very hard, his land is very beautiful, and his crops are plentiful; he is still not completely happy. Frustrated by his relations with his neighbors, he covets even more land, and ends up losing everything because of his inability to appreciate the things he has.

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