man lying inside a coffin buried underneath the earth

How Much Land Does a Man Need?

by Leo Tolstoy

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What are the negative qualities presented in "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"

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This excellent short story is actually a record of the long and slow descent of Pahom into absolute greed and selfishness as his insatiable thirst for ever-greater quantities of land indicate. Perhaps the first place where these "bad qualities" are clearly shown is when Pahom has his first patch of land, but quickly turns out to treat the peasants like he was who don't have any land in precisely the same way that he himself was treated by landowners when he trespassed in the land of landowners. Consider the following quote:

Pahom turned them out again and again, and forgave their owners, and for a long time he forbore to prosecute anyone. But at last he lost patience and complained to the District Court. He knew it was the peasants' want of land, and no evil intent on their part, that caused the trouble, but he thought: "I cannot go on overlooking it or they will destroy all I have. They must be taught a lesson."

Pahom very quickly then turns into the kind of character that he himself deplored as he beings to persecute the peasants and fine them. At each stage, Pahom gains more land, only to find that after a while this amount of land is never enough for him, and he dreams of acquiring more, until finally, at the end of the story, it is this greed that kills him. The highly ironic ending of the story, that answers the question of the title, shows the difference between how much land we might "want," and the land we need, which is shown to be only enough for us to be buried in.

 

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