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

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tolstoy had another reason for writing "How Much Land Does A Man Need?" He discovered the teaching of Henry George, an American whose book Progress and Poverty had a strong international influence. Henry George's basic idea is that nobody should be entitled to own any part of the earth, and that it should be common property, like the sky and the sea. Everyone who wanted land for farming or building should pay the annual rental value of the land to the government, and the government should have no other source of income such as income taxes, sales taxes, and excise taxes. George and Tolstoy, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, believed that private ownership of land was the source of many social ills.

In Tolstoy's story the protagonist is trying to acquire much more land than he needs. If everybody acted like Pahom all the earth would be monopolized by private owners who would be able to force others to pay them just to live on the earth. But if everybody only used as much land as they actually needed, there would be enough for everybody to live in comfort and in harmony. Pahom is just like all the others who wish to fence off part of the earth and make it inaccessible to others while they have no use for it themselves. This is not greed for land but greed for power and money. It is obvious in Tolstoy's story that Pahom cannot use all the land he covets. If he had more time he would try to take in all of Asia.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One overriding theme can be found in Tolstoy's short story "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"  One must learn to be content with what one has without getting too greedy and grasping.  Pahom is a man who has a loving family and enough to provide for them.  He and his wife are content to live outside the city and away from any of the Devil's temptations; yet, he wishes he had more land.  Pahom acts on this wish more than once, and he eventually gets so greedy (with the Devil's help, it's true) that he dies with nothing.--nothing bu the six feet of land needed to bury him.  Despite the enticement of the Devil, Pahom could have chosen contentment and expected God to provide.  Instead, he chose to taunt the Devil and become distracted by his greed for more land.  Pahom would not have died such an untimely death if he been content with the blessings he had. 

I've attached an excellent e-notes summary below which might also be helpful for you.   

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main character is called Pahom in many of the reference sources, including the summary of "How Much Land Does A Man Need?" in the eNotes Study Guide. He is also called Pahom in the Wikipedia article on the story. The only variation on the name seems to Pakhom. You can access the eNotes Study Guide by clicking on the reference link below. There are also many questions and answers accessible at that site, and many of them contain the name as Pahom. Of course everybody is referring to some English translation of Tolstoy's story, and the name may be different in the original. There must be many different English translations of this famous story.

podar10 | Student

Tolstoy did not believe that human life was futile. In his later years he came to believe that the best life was one of Christian humility and simplicity. His story "How Much Land Does a Man Require" shows the futility of human greed. The protagonist is to gain possession of all the land he can walk around in one day. His greed for land lures him into walking farther and farther in order to encompass desirable woods, pastures, and other attractive areas. Because of his greediness he finds himself too far away from the point that would represent the enclosure of all the land he was attempting to encircle in one day. His anxiety and exertion kill him and he is buried in just six feet of earth. The whole story illustrates how foolish people can be when they try to be too important and to acquire too much. Tolstoy uses the same theme in another simple story titled "What Men Live By." Tolstoy's whole philosophy in his later life is pretty much exemplified in the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Matthew in the New Testament. He himself gave up his privileged position as a Russian nobleman and worked as a cobbler and a teacher of peasant children.

othsreading | Student

Why is everyone calling this character Pahom?  That is not his name.

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How Much Land Does a Man Need?

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