man lying inside a coffin buried underneath the earth

How Much Land Does a Man Need?

by Leo Tolstoy

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Busy as we are from childhood tilling Mother Earth, we peasants have no time to let any nonsense settle in our heads. Our only trouble is that we haven’t land enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself!

Pahom believes that it is the honest work of country life that keeps its people from temptation. Pahom grows increasingly greedy over the course of the story, believing that if he just has a bit more land, he’ll be happy. This quote from Pahom sets the scene for his downfall and convinces the Devil to tempt him. Pahom’s story ultimately demonstrates that anyone who is discontent with what they have—even someone from the country, despite Pahom’s estimation that country people are the most sensible—can fall prey to greed and temptation. 

Pahom’s heart kindled with desire. He thought:
“Why should I suffer in this narrow hole, if one can live so well elsewhere? I will sell my land and my homestead here, and with the money I will start afresh over there and get everything new. In this crowded place one is always having trouble. But I must first go and find out all about it myself.”

Pahom’s desire for more and better land is insatiable; he always finds a reason to seek land elsewhere. This marks the first of two times that Pahom acquires land but decides to pack up and move in order to acquire more. This disproves Pahom’s original claim that he will be content if he had enough land. 

“What shall I do,” he thought again, “I have grasped too much, and ruined the whole affair. I can’t get there before the sun sets.”

Pahom continues to seek more and more land and does not see his folly until the end of the story. He realizes that he has overreached as he tries to encircle his plot of land and return to the Bashkirs. As he draws toward the end of his circuit of land, which he now realizes is “plenty,” Pahom sees the Chief of the Bashkirs laughing—just as the Devil, in the Chief’s form, laughed in Pahom’s dream the night before. This is the last sight he sees before his untimely death.

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.

Pahom was never able to see how much land he really “needed” to be satisfied. Once he was given a little, he desired more and more until his greed killed him. In the end, Tolstoy implies, the only land a man truly needs is enough for his grave.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access