“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 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.