According to James Joyce, Tolstoy’s “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” is "the greatest story that the literature of the world knows". The short story is based upon a village peasant Pahóm who, driven by greediness, risks his own life to gain money. Here, the Devil is the symbol of the inert gluttony of Pahóm. The Devil acts as a catalyst or an instigator.
When, the wife of Pahóm chats with her sister, she proudly expresses her content for being a peasant’s wife. But, this pushes boast into Pahóm’s mind. Pahóm wishes to have more land. The Devil snatches this opportunity to grip over the good peasant. Pahóm becomes able to possess more, but gradually, his greed envelopes him. He, instigated by a farmer from Volga, goes there and buys lots of acres. Although he owns enough, but the more he gets, the more he wants. Again, listening to one from Bashkirs, he moves to that commune and deals with the chief. He is let to take that amount which he might cover running. He, at the end, can cover a huge amount, but has to pay off his life instead. The nightmare comes true. The Devil wins.
Actually, the winning Devil is Pahóm’s greed. Tolstoy personalizes this folly superbly in order to give his story a fable-like flavour. The Devil provokes Pahóm. This provocation ultimately pours oil into the fire of gluttony and Pahóm is burnt in this fire. Thus, the Devil plays a very significant role in the short story. The story is much like that of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe where the protagonist Faustus, being instigated by his greed and provoked by the gang of Lucifer, brings himself his own downfall.