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

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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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How Much Land Does a Man Need?

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