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How Much Land Does A Man Need by Leo Tolstoy

The story, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”, by Leo Tolstoy is a story about Americans
taking advantage of the Indians. Although it is set in Russia, it is about the greed that many
people had at the time and the outcome of that greed. The opening scene represents the
Europeans coming over to America. During that time, the mid-1800’s, the Europeans were rich
and their relatives in America were poor. The younger sister in the story represents the Americans
and the older sister represents the Europeans. The poor Americans, like the younger sister in the
story, did not mind having to work hard all the time. They enjoyed their freedom and security.
Even though they were content, it wasn’t complete. In the story, Pahom agrees with his peasant
wife but wishes they had more land to work with.

“Our only trouble is that we haven’t land enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil
himself!” (p 212) The devil here is greed itself. It is here that we see the greed begin to manifest,
as it did in Americans over a hundred years ago. The story goes on and we see Pahom becoming
agitated the he has to pay fines all the time because of his animals wandering. This represents
the American people having to pay fines, such as taxes and tariffs, to the government in the mid-
1800’s. Pahom lives in a commune and some of the people have begun to buy their own tracts of
land. He sees this and decides that it would be a good idea if he did the same thing. He was
worried that if he didn’t act soon, he would miss his chance. He wouldn’t have to pay any fines
and could keep all the money he makes. The more people heard about it, the more they wanted it
for themselves. Pahom finally gets his own land and is happy with it.

Inevitably, some problems arise with Pahom’s land. Other people’s animals were getting onto
land and ruining his crops. At first he just put up with it. Eventually though he became a hypocrite.
“So he had them up, gave them a lesson, and then another, and two or three of the peasants
were fined.” (p 214) He began to impose fines on people the same way they were imposed on
him earlier in the story. Needless to say, people were very angry with him. Some people began to
leave the commune, eastern United States, and leave for new parts, the west. Pahom was
content to stay until he heard from a stranger that the land was great where people were moving.
This could be compared to news getting back to the east coast about all that was happening on
the move west. So Pahom went to check things out, liked what he saw, and moved.

Here things went well, for awhile. Pahom was happy h


aving ten times as much land. He had land for everything he needed. But after awhile, it came to
be to little. His greed was growing out of control. He was ready to buy more land but a passing
stranger told him about a place he had just come from, more news from the west. Pahom was
told about the best land ever and how cheap it was. Pahom travels to inquire about the land.
When he arrives, he finds it just as he was told it was going to be. The people that live on the
land, the Bashkirs, are a very simple and happy people. They do not speak the same language
as Pahom, though. These people are the native Americans. As the European settlers moved west
they came across the natives. Tolstoy describes: “They were all stout and merry, and all the
summer long they never thought of doing any work. They were quite ignorant, and knew no
Russian, but were very good-natured.” (p217)

When people first encountered the Indians, they thought them to be stupid and lazy, easy to take
advantage of. With the help of a translator, Pahom makes his purposes know. The Chief, though,
speaks Russian. Many native Americans knew how to speak English because they were
constantly exposed to English speaking men. They made a deal that whatever deal Pahom could
walk around would be his. His greed was out of control at this point. He was so sure about how
much land he could cover that he thought he was stealing for them.

The night before he had a dream that the devil was sitting over his dead body laughing. He
dismisses it and goes back to sleep. The next day he starts out to stake his claim. He is trying so
hard to get as much as possible that he miss judges how far he has gone and begins to have
problems walking. He is tired, hot, and hurt. He has to start running to make it back in time.
Pahom begins to realize that he should not have been so greedy, as it is taking it’s toll on him. He
barely makes it back on time, and alive. Right as he gets to the finish, he sees the Chief sitting
and laughing, just like the devil in his dream. He collapses and dies right as he finishes. He is
buried right there. “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 need.” (p 222)

This story represents the greed present in Americans during the time of the settlement of western
America. Americans were very greedy people. They were never content with what they had and,
in more than one way, destroyed their own lives to try and get more for themselves.