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How Much Land Does a Man Need?

by Leo Tolstoy

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How do the Bashkirs measure land for sale in Tolstoy's "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"

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By Chapter 6 of Leo Tolstoy's "How Much Land Does a Man Need?," we learn from the Chief of the Bashkirs that the tribe sells their land at the price of "one thousand roubles a day." The Chief continues further to explain that they sell as much land as can be marked out on foot in one day, from sunrise to sunset. However, he also discloses one stipulation: all money is lost if the purchaser does not return to the exact spot he started walking from on the same day, meaning before sunset.

While this sounds like a good deal to Pahom, little does he realize how easy it is for a person to get carried away and be unable to return to the exact same spot. Because of his greed, Pahom tries to walk much more of a perimeter than he is physically capable of handling. Because he walks too great a distance, he is unable to make it back in time before sunset without pushing himself even harder physically. By the time the end of the day is nearing, he must run back to his starting point after having already pushed himself beyond what he could physically endure by walking. He pushes himself so hard that, by the time he reaches his starting point, he collapses and dies, probably of heart failure, showing us that the Chief of the Bashkirs' deal was really just a scam.

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