man lying inside a coffin buried underneath the earth

How Much Land Does a Man Need?

by Leo Tolstoy

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What answer does the story give to its title, "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"

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The story portrays Pahom’s greed and the devil’s mischief. The devil overheard Pahom boast about how he would not fear the devil if he had enough land. The statement was made during a conversation between Pahom’s wife and her sister from the city. The sister bragged about how they had better lives in the city compared to what Pahom’s wife and her family had in the countryside. She talked about the exciting social life and advanced amenities in the city. Pahom’s wife in defense stated that although they did not enjoy the benefits of city life, they had less complicated lives with minimal risks to their fortunes. Pahom took the opportunity to state that the only problem facing people in the countryside was insufficient access to land and it was in the same breath that he made the boast.

The devil lured Pahom into his trap by offering him land. Pahom’s greed got the best of him, and he made a fatal mistake when the Bashkir’s made him an offer to acquire their land. In attempts to carve out a huge piece of land, Pahom walked too far and died of extreme exhaustion in front of the Bashkirs and their chief.  Pahom’s demise proved that he did not need all the land he tried to acquire because after death he left it all behind. He was buried in a six feet long grave, which was all the land he needed after all.

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.

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