How Much Land Does A Man Need Summary

Leo Tolstoy

How Much Land Does A Man Need

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How Much Land Does A Man Need Summary

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Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s short story“How Much Land Does a Man Need?”(1886) focuses on Pakhom, a poor man who becomes fixated on the idea that his life would be perfect if only he owned more land. His obsession eventually consumes him; in his lust for land, he loses everything that actually matters in his life. Considered a classic anti-materialism tale, although it is only nine pages long, it deftly explores themes of greed, poverty, social climbing, and what truly makes a person happy, and features a classic ironic ending. While not as famous as Tolstoy’s more popular novels, it had a large influence on other short story writers of the era and the early twentieth century. It was cited by authors James Joyce and Ludwig Wittgenstein as one of the best short stories ever written. It is still taught widely today in classes studying Russian literature. Although it has never been directly adapted, motifs from the short story were used in the 1969 West German film Scarabea: How Much Land Does a Man Need?

“ How Much Land Does a Man Need?focuses on the story of a peasant named Pakhom, who lives a humble existence. As the story opens, he overhears his wife and sister-in-law discussing the benefits of town life versus farm life. He thinks to himself that if he had plenty of land, he would have nothing to fear—not even the devil himself. However, unbeknownst to him, Satan is in the house watching him and overhears his thoughts. Satan decides that he will accept his challenge and give him everything he wants—but then snatch everything from him. A short timer later, a landlady in the peasant village decides to sell her estate. There is a frenzy among the peasants of the village to buy her holdings. Pakhom scrapes together enough money to purchase a small parcel of land. By diligently working on the extra land, Pakhom is able to reap enough extra money to live a more comfortable existence.

However, the additional money causes Pakhom to become very possessive of his land and paranoid that it will be taken away from him. He starts to have conflicts with his neighbors, and some, resenting his success, even threaten to burn his house. The tension makes him decide to move his family to another commune with more land. There, he is able to grow even more crops and build up a small fortune. However, he is forced to grow the crops on rented land, which he resents due to wanting to be self-sufficient. He works hard to buy and sell a lot of fertile land, building up his fortune further. He is soon introduced to the Bashkirs, a local indigenous group, and learns that they are simple people who own a lot of land. He approaches them and negotiates with them to buy a large parcel of their land.

However, the Bashkirs’o offer is unusual. They tell him that for one thousand rubles, he can walk around as large an area as he wants, starting at daybreak, and mark his route with a spade. If he returns to his starting point by sunset, he gets all the land he marked. However, if he does not reach his starting point, he loses his money and gets nothing. Pakhom is delighted, believing this will be easy and thinking he is getting the bargain of a lifetime from these simple people. However, the night before his task, he experiences a horrific dream in which he sees himself lying dead on the ground, with the devil laughing over his corpse. The next day, he stays out as late as possible, marking the land until just before the sun sets. As he sees the sun setting, he realizes he is far from the starting point and breaks into a run as the Bashkirs wait for him. He arrives at the starting point just as the sun sets, and the Bashkirs congratulate him. Suddenly, exhausted from the run, his heart gives out, and he drops dead right in front of the landowners. The story ends with his servant burying him in a simple grave, six feet long—in the end, all the land he needed.

Leo Tolstoy, also known as Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, was a Russian author widely regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. Born to an aristocratic Russian family in Czarist Russia, he is best known for his two iconic novels,War and Peace and Anna Karenina, widely regarded as the two greatest works of fiction ever to come out of Russia. He wrote five additional novels, including the trio Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, loosely based on his own life. He also has five novellas, dozens of short stories, and six plays to his record, many of which are still widely read today. He was also a well-regarded philosopher, authoring dozens of papers revealing his thoughts on government, religion, and Russian society. A dedicated pacifist and advocate for justice, he is widely honored in both Russia and around the world today.