How Much Land Does a Man Need? Analysis

Leo Tolstoy

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Tolstoy regarded the telling force of a moral and the power to reach a wide audience as the key elements in a story. These two elements are bountifully present in “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” In referring to the tale as a parable, critics draw attention to its didactic function. In a parable, the focus is entirely on one or, at most, two characters and a specific circumstance that provides the conflict or challenge that the protagonists must face.

The only fully developed character in Tolstoy’s tale is Pahom; neither his wife nor her elder sister nor any of his fellow peasants is given a distinct identity. Tolstoy intends his readers to focus entirely on the plight of Pahom as he seeks his fortune. This, like his other parables, is meant to transmit feelings of God’s love and the importance of love of one’s neighbor.

The parable form is meant to convey a deliberate sense of “artlessness”—that is, a simplicity of narrative style and content in which a story seems inevitable, or self-telling. In fact, the parable form requires careful attention to achieve this “artless” effect, and Tolstoy has no equal among such storytellers.