How Much Land Does a Man Need? Characters
The main characters of “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” are the two sisters, Pahom, and the Devil.
- The two sisters, one of whom is Pahom’s wife, have a conversation at the story’s beginning about whether country people are inelegant or simply less likely to submit to the Devil’s temptations.
- Pahom, the story’s protagonist, is married to the younger of the two sisters. He is not content with the land he has, and in his quest to gain more, he succumbs to greed and ultimately dies as a result.
- The Devil decides to test Pahom’s greed—and wins.
Last Updated on September 30, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499
The Two Sisters
Tolstoy’s short story begins with two sisters. The elder sister is married to a tradesman in town and has come to visit her younger sister, Pahom’s wife, in the country. The elder sister sneers at country life, describing it as inelegant and coarse. The younger sister remarks that in town, husbands are surrounded by temptations and more likely to be drawn in by the “Evil One” (the Devil), which is not the case in the country.
Pahom is the main character of the short story. He is the husband of the younger sister and believes that the hard work inherent to country life makes its people immune to temptation. However, Pahom is discontent: he boldly thinks to himself that if he only had enough land, he “shouldn’t fear the Devil himself!”
Pahom soon scrapes together enough money to buy forty acres, which he begins to sow and work for himself. As time goes on, however, he grows irritated by the intrusion of other peasants onto his land. He begins to fine them, and the commune resents him. Pahom moves to a different area and buys a great deal of land, but as he is still not satisfied, he goes to the Bashkirs, who offer to sell him as much land as he can walk around and mark in a day. Pahom overreaches, and his greed gets the best of him: he has to run back as the sun sets and ultimately dies from exhaustion.
At the beginning of the story, the Devil listens in on the sisters’ conversation and Pahom’s thoughts to himself. Upon hearing Pahom’s remark that if he had enough land he “shouldn’t fear the Devil himself,” the Devil resolves to put this to the test. He causes the peasants to disagree so that they cannot buy a plot of land together and instead choose to buy it in individual pieces, which tempts Pahom by opening up the possibility to purchase land. After Pahom moves to acquire more land past the Volga, then moves again to the country of the Bashkirs, he has a dream which proves that the Devil has been working through multiple people in his story—such as the Chief of the Bashkirs—to tempt him with more land. In the end, the Devil wins, and Pahom dies in his greedy pursuit.
The Bashkirs are a group of people far out in the countryside. A traveling landowner tells Pahom that he bought good land from them at a very low price. The Bashkirs are easily pleased with gifts like clothing and tea, and have an unusual rate for selling land: they sell it by the day. When Pahom expresses his confusion at this unconventional rate, they explain that they will sell a man however much land he can walk and mark in a day. Pahom’s greed when faced with this temptation eventually leads to his death.