What is the moral message in the story "Master and Man"?

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The moral is, quite simply, that the pursuit of money and property is foolish when one is endangering one's life, as well as the lives of others, by engaging in it. In the tale, Vassili Andreitch has the goal of traveling through the night to a place where he wishes to outbid others in buying a piece of land. In other words, the story is similar in theme to Tolstoy's "How Much Land does a Man Need?" The answer is, or should be, none, if it's to come at the cost of one's life.

The problem in the story is that a raging snowstorm is taking place while Vassili Andreitch and his servant Nikita are driving (by horse-drawn vehicle, of course) to where the land, called the Goriantchinsk Woods, is being sold. Vassili Andreitch figures that if he can get there as soon as possible (apparently in the middle of the night), he will obtain the Woods at a cheap price before other bidders can beat him to it. Nikita has the sense to know that they'll probably get lost or stuck in the snow on the country roads, but in Russia at the time (as elsewhere, including America), the servant class didn't dare contradict "the master."

Vassili Andreitch decides to plunge ahead, even though in the deep snow they run off the road several times, get lost, and go in a circle because visibility is so poor. They manage to stop at the house of a rich peasant they know and are taken in and treated with hospitality and then offered accommodations for the night, given how dangerous the snowstorm has become. But Vassili Andreitch declines the offer because even in the midst of nearly impossible travel conditions, he's itching to get going again so he can reach the property that's for sale and buy it at a bargain price. He and Nikita set off again, but this time they get stuck in the snow and can't get out. Vassili Andreitch freezes to death, along with their horse, Mukhorty. But Nikita survives, somehow protected by the warmth of his master's body and that of Mukhorty. The following morning, peasants dig him out, along with the body of his master and horse. Icicles looking like huge tears are frozen to Mukhorty's eyes.

It is only as he realizes he is going to freeze to death that Vassili Andreitch sees how ridiculous his thinking and his goals have been. In the rat-race to get a bargain and increase his wealth and holdings, he has destroyed himself. The moral is that life is more important than money or property.

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