man lying inside a coffin buried underneath the earth

How Much Land Does a Man Need?

by Leo Tolstoy

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What is the theme of "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" by Leo Tolstoy?

The main theme of “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” by Tolstoy is the danger of greed. The soul of the avaricious peasant Pahom has become so corroded by greed that it leads him to buy up more and more land until, eventually, it kills him.

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The key theme in this short story is the corrupting power of greed. However, we can also read into it various other connected themes, such as the temporary nature of physical acquisitions. The overriding idea of the story is that Pahom’s greed ultimately avails him nothing. He seeks to acquire more and more land, but in the end, he is so greedy that he does not consider whether his attempts to gain more land are even feasible for him physically. He pushes himself so hard, thinking only of what he might be able to gain, that he kills himself in the effort.

This, then, leads us on to the second key theme of the story, as underlined by the concluding statement that all the land Pahom needed in the end was the amount that would serve for his grave. The story is telling us that greed is so abhorrent and so pointless not only because it has a corrupting effect on the character, as it is shown to have on Pahom’s, but also because it does not actually amass anything that is permanent. At the end of the story, Pahom has worked so hard and caused so much damage to himself that he has caused his own premature death, but nothing of what he has gained in life will belong to him in death. His greed and hard work has ultimately benefited him nothing.

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The answer to the question posed in the title of Tolstoy's short story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” is “Just enough to bury your body.” You can't take it with you, as the saying goes, and so it's pointless to amass a large amount of stuff, whether it's antiques, gadgets, objects of art, or, in the case of Pahom, tracts of land.

Pahom is a Russian peasant who can't stop buying up more and more land. No matter how much land he buys, it's never enough. He remains completely unsatisfied by his purchases, to the extent that his growing land wealth never seems to bring him any happiness.

Pahom's soul has become corrupted by greed to such an extent that he no longer knows what's in his best interests. In a classic example of the tail wagging the dog, greed has got the better of Pahom; it has taken him over to such an extent that he's become its slave, somewhat ironic given that he's only recently been freed from serfdom.

The dangers of greed ultimately lead to Pahom's death. Given what he believes to be the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to own as much Bashkir land as he can traverse in a single day, Pahom ends up dropping down dead as he tries to grab as much acreage as he can get his greedy little hands on.

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“How Much Land Does a Man Need?” is a tale of the theme of greed.  The main character, Pahom, is, at the beginning of the story, a peasant who places all his...

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value on material representations of wealth, and who is therefore unhappy.  And so his family works together to earn the money to buy a plot of land, and they are successful, and this land provides happiness for Pahom for a time.  Soon, however, he begins to desire more space and more profit, and sells his land for a larger plot, upon which the same thing happens – he is happy for a time, but soon begins to crave more.  So we can say that one theme of the story is that greed for material gain does not provide eternal happiness.  If a person looks outside himself for happiness, he will never be satisfied with what he has, and will eventually reach too far and face his downfall.

This is what happens to Pahom, who is given the task by a tribal people of marking out any area of land, on foot, before the setting of the sun.  If he returns to where he started in the allotted time, he can have the ground he covered for a very cheap price.  Pahom’s reason is overthrown by his greed, and instead of assuring himself plenty of time he walks blindly around the best corners of the land, not noticing that he is running out of time until it is too late.  He makes it back to where he started, and the chief of the tribe is willing to make a concession despite the fact that he was a few minutes late – unfortunately, however, Pahom has killed himself in his efforts.  And in the end, once Pahom was buried, “Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”

This ironic ending note is a testament to the futility of amassing any excessive amount of wealth or assets, for what good is it all if it destroys a man?  In the end a very humble plot of land is all a man has truly earned – that grave that equalizes any one life with the next.  Better to be satisfied with humble gains from the beginning, and be free to appreciate and celebrate what you have rather than suffer with the chains of greed around one’s ankles.

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What is human nature in the story ''How Much Land Does a Man Need?'' by Leo Tolstoy?

In the story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?,” Tolstoy describes human nature through what is essentially a parable. The main character, Pahom, is a peasant that works the land for a living. He is entangled with pride. He believes that he will fear no one and nothing if he posses more land. In his lust for more property, he eventually loses himself and his life.

The idea that Tolstoy puts forward for human nature at the beginning of the story is that when humankind has the opportunity to sin, chase the lusts of the flesh, he will pursue them to his destruction. This message is made clear by Pahom’s wife when she says,

But you, in your towns, are surrounded by temptations; today all may be right, but tomorrow the Evil One may tempt your husband with cards, wine, or women, and all will go to ruin. Don't such things happen often enough?

The younger sister makes this point in the face of the life of luxury that her sister has.

Pahom falls into the trap of human nature. He thinks to himself,

Busy as we are from childhood tilling Mother Earth, we peasants have no time to let any nonsense settle in our heads. Our only trouble is that we haven't land enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn't fear the Devil himself!

He misses the point of his wife—that if he had enough land he would be tempted to get more, it is the simple life itself that keeps him virtuous. Pahom is then ripe for the temptation of the devil, who makes it a point to bring him down with his desire for land.

Pahom ends up pursuing more and more land, having to leave his original community and finding people who are “simple” who will sell him a large, cheap tract. They make him a deal that he can have as much land as he wants for 1,000 roubles if he can mark it out himself and get back to the original spot. He gets too greedy and becomes lost and overcome, eventually seeing the people he is buying from before collapsing dead. The irony of the final moment is that he is buried in a six-foot grave, just enough land for him.

Tolstoy makes a point about how the primary function of humans is towards self-destruction. It is work and business that keeps us virtuous, but when given to luxury, wealth, or comfort, we will naturally seek things that destroy us. In that sense, Pahom’s wife is not only right but also wise for the things she says at the beginning of the story.

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What is human nature in the story ''How Much Land Does a Man Need?'' by Leo Tolstoy?

Pahom had numerous opportunities to stop his quest for more land when he already had a substantial lot to his name. He forgot where he came from and was blinded by the luster of extreme wealth. The author used Pahom to express his idea about human nature in relation to wealth and power. It is human to aspire for better and have ambition to succeed. However, ambition and aspiration, if not checked, would lead to a person’s downfall and destruction.

Pahom believed that more land would solve his issues, and the devil took advantage of his desires. The devil turned Pahom’s ambitions into greed, which eventually led to his demise. Pahom accepted the deal to walk on the land for a day to mark his allocation. However, he allowed greed to take over and tried to cover more distance than he could manage. Pahom died of exhaustion, leaving behind all the land he ever wanted.

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What is the significance of the title of "How Much Land Does a Man Require?" by Leo Tolstoy?

In this story, Pahom becomes greedy and cannot obtain enough land to satisfy himself. He buys more and more land. Still, he cannot be satisfied. He hears of great land in the land of the Bashkirs. He learns that he can purchase all the land he can walk aorund in one day, from sun up to sun down. 

The Bashkirs are clever. They realize that human nature is often greedy and selfish. They realize that any man who has the option to walk around all the land he can and claim it in one day will lead a greedy, selfish man to try and obtain more land than he possibly can in one day. 

Pahom keeps extending his land area and becomes exhausted in his attemp to get back to the starting point by sundown. Pahom tried to cover too much land area and drops dead as he arrives back to the starting point. He learns the hard way that a man only "needs" enough land to be buried in. The Bashkirs get all of his money and they keep their land. They bury Pahom with pleasure. Pahom loses his life due to his greed for more and more land:

Pahom’s servant picks up the spade with which Pahom had been marking his land and digs a grave in which to bury him: “Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”

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What is the significance of the title of "How Much Land Does a Man Require?" by Leo Tolstoy?

Tolstoy became religious and philosophical in his later years and came to believe in the Christian virtues of humility and simplicity. He titled his story in the form of a question because he wanted his reader to think about it. If a man only claimed as much land as he actually required to provide for himself and his family, he could get by with only a few acres, and there would be plenty of land for everybody. But men tend to be greedy and selfish. They fail to realize that life is very short and that much of their hard work and worry and stress will end up getting them nothing but trouble and frustration. In the end a man only needs enough land to provide a grave for himself, an area about six feet long and three feet wide. Thoreau wrote inWaldenthat "most men lead lives of quiet desperation," and Tolstoy would have heartily agreed with him. Many of the great religious leaders have chosen to live without any possessions. Tolstoy chose a brilliant way of illustrating his thesis. We can visualize this fairly typical mortal trying to take in more and more land as he tries to walk around it in a day. Tolstoy lived on the land and had a strong feeling for the land with all its beauty and variety. This comes out in his story and makes it vivid and real. We can feel the heat and visualize the setting sun. This is due as much to Tolstoy's sincerity as to his artistic ability.

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What is the background of the story "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" by Leo Tolstoy?

Serfdom in the Russian Empire can be traced back to the 11th century. By the 16th century, most peasants were serfs. The feudal Russian economy was based on agrarian principles and serfs were required by law to work the lands that their lords owned. The conditions for peasants were poor—their exhaustive work was meant solely for the profit of their lord and they themselves could be bought and sold—they had very limited property and personal rights. Serfdom was abolished in 1861 by Tsar Alexander II who is widely praised for freeing the 23 million serfs and other significant reforms that effectively modernized Russia.

Tolstoy wrote How Much Land Does A Man Need? twenty-five years after the abolition of serfdom. The story takes place after the laws were changed when peasants were allowed to start owning their own land which was viewed as an opportunity to control one’s own destiny. Tolstoy’s story explores some of the reverberations of the reforms. Although the serfs were freed, life was still an uphill battle—good land was limited, and peasants had to pay high redemption taxes that frequently took most of their income to pay.

How Much Land Does A Man Need? is a cautionary tale about Pakhom, a recently freed serf. It illustrates the potential negative effects of the new system through Pakhom, who becomes obsessed with gaining land. Pakhom associates land with security and comfort, saying “If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself,” The Devil tells Pakhom that he will give Pakhom all the land he desires, but will still snatch everything away. As Pakhom’s obsession grows, he becomes corrupted by selfishness and the need for material belongings. Ultimately, his quest for an excessive amount of land leads to his death and the Devil wins out.

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What is the background of the story "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" by Leo Tolstoy?

The emancipation of the serfs by Tsar Alexander II in 1861 allowed millions of Russian peasants to own land for the first time. Inevitably, many of those wanted more than just a neat little plot to call their own; they wanted to become substantial landowners in their own right. It is this attitude that Tolstoy is satirizing in the character of Pahom in "How Much Land Does A Man Need?"

To be sure, Tolstoy is not suggesting that emancipation was wrong; he's simply drawing our attention to some of its more regrettable consequences. Pahom, like a growing number of Russian peasants, has come to see land as a source of wealth, an object to be controlled and exploited for gain. In doing so, he is breaking the almost mystical relationship to the soil that Tolstoy believes is the correct one in relation to land. In seeing land as a source of wealth, Pahom is cutting himself off from his roots; in a spiritual sense he is homeless, despite his substantial land-holdings. Tolstoy's story stands as a warning of the unintended consequences of enlightened legislation. Emancipation may have liberated the serfs, but in the process, far too many of them have lost their spiritual freedom.

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What is the background of the story "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" by Leo Tolstoy?

Tolstoy wrote this excellent tale against a backdrop of massive changes in 19th century Russia. Until the emancipation of Russian serfs by Czar Alexander II, these peasants were virtual slaves of landowners and aristocrats. They could be bought or sold and were not allowed to own property. Tolstoy wrote this story after these serfs had already had their freedom for 25 years. They now had rights and could own land. Certainly this was progress, and Tolstoy, who was himself an ardent reformer in Russia, would never wish a reversal of the decree, yet in this parable we see Tolstoy ask the question - with often black humour - of whether the peasants' progress brought changes they would regret.

This sets the stage for the parable that is contained within this story and the harsh warning of unchecked materialism is clearly established through the fate of Pahom and his sad death.

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