Leo Tolstoy Questions and Answers

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Where is the irony in "How Much Land Does a Man Need"?

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Kale Emmerich eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The irony in this story is directly related to the title: "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" Throughout the story, Pakom wants more and more land for his money, and he would have the reader believe that he "needs" this land, when in reality this is simply a result of his excessive greed.

He continues to try and acquire more and more land, showing that he is never satisfied and will convince himself that he needs more and more when in reality he simply has excessive wants. The end result is him dying of exhaustion on the land he is trying to claim. When a simple grave is dug for him, the question is finally answered. No matter how much land a man wants, he only really needs six feet, enough to bury him in.

This is a reference to the futility of man's work—that no matter how lofty your goals, how high your greed, or how successful you are, in the end, it is all lost as we end up buried in the ground.

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William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The ongoing irony in "How Much Land Does a Man Need" has to do with the fact that Pakom cannot stop trying to enlarge the amount of land he is going to acquire for his one thousand roubles. He keeps walking farther and farther, trying to enclose more and more of the rich land. He inevitably ends up getting into time trouble because the sun is setting and he is a long distance from the point he has to reach in order to make a complete circuit of the land he wishes to acquire. He has already tired himself out with his long day's walking, and then he is forced to walk faster and faster and finally to start running in order to reach his goal. The final irony is contained in the very last words of Tolstoy's story:

His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.

That answers the question asked in the title, "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"

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