Why did Leo Tolstoy use a rural setting and choose a peasant for the protagonist in "How Much Land Does a Man Need"?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One reason why Leo Tolstoy characterized his protagonist as a peasant in his short story "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" is because peasants always face difficult lives of labor, yet, at the same time, society was changing for the Russian peasant at the time Tolstoy published his story in 1886.

The year 1886 was in the midst of Russia's industrial revolution, which started in the middle of the 19th century. Modernized agricultural techniques were integral to industrial revolutions in all countries. As the peasants began improving their farming techniques for mass production, they also began increasing in wealth, as depicted in the story. Tolstoy saw that, just as the industrial revolution brought a materialistic viewpoint to the people of all nations, the industrial revolution was equally affecting the Russian peasantry with greed and materialism. Hence, Tolstoy set his story in an agricultural backdrop, in the midst of the industrial revolution, in order to warn of the dangers of materialistic greed that industrialization was bringing with it.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tolstoy used a rural setting and made a peasant the protagonist in this tale of greed because his readers could relate to such a character. Russia in Tolstoy's time was divided between wealthy aristocrats and laboring peasants with a small middle class. Most readers would not be able to relate to a tale of an aristocrat, but readers could relate to a laborer, like them, who wanted to be rich or claim land. 

The story is told in skaz form, which is a Russian oral tradition of storytelling that features a peasant and informal language. Tolstoy used this tradition to tell his tale, which resembles a parable in form. A parable is a simple story that offers a lesson anyone is capable of understanding. To make his story more accessible to his audience, Tolstoy featured a simple, rural everyman who experiences the consequences of unfettered greed. 

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How Much Land Does a Man Need?

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