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How Much Land Does a Man Need by Leo Tolstoy: I Shall Never Reach that Spot

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In the short story, “How Much Land Does a Man Need” By Leo Tolstoy, Tolstoy employs Pahom, the protagonist to endure a fatal flaw of excessive greed and power that leads to his downfall. It touches upon the human nature that we are bound by and must resist for the sake to become interconnected and be one with the universe. Tolstoy challenges people in differing social classes in relation with their morals and approach to life, which is in the same sense, their approach to death. Acknowledging that it is similar to a fable, it is assumed that it is designed to enlighten the reader with a moral. Although the moral can be perceived to indicate the false relation between money, or more specifically land and contentment, Tolstoy complicates this with the inclusion of the devil in the story, fostering the story to contain a religious or symbolic interpretation rather than a literal one. While the devil may represent the human condition and weakness which is greed and power, Pahom portrays the human soul and free will that is challenged with decision making. Acknowledging that there are many references to the Devil and many to God, he underlines the presence of evil that we may be unaware of. At the same time, Tolstoy emphasizes the necessity of God and spiritual needs within one’s lifetime even during times of materialistic indulgences. The demise of Pahom is brought forth from abandoning his home, and without realizing it, his own life and God as he creates his own fate by overlooking everything he once had as a landless serf.

The story is opened up with a conversation between an younger sister, who is the wife of a farmer, Pahom and an older sister, who resides in the city, wealthy and indulges in the materialistic way of life. They debate over whether they prefer the city life or peasant life. The elder sister boasts of her better clothing, fine foods, entertainment, and generally that she had a more comfortable, luxurious lifestyle. However, the younger sister appears to be grateful for hers even if it is a lowly one that is near the farms. She mentions the many risks of the wealthier lifestyle like losing all they may earn and indulging in such temptations and engaging in nonsense. The younger sister further supports her stance that while the peasants do not live as comfortably, they are “free from anxiety” and do not lust after materialistic goods and essentially, will not indulge in the temptations of the Devil. Pahom, overhearing the conversation comes forth to agree with his wife that the peasants are piled with work and thus, have no time for nonsense. However, he exclaims that their only trouble is that they don’t acquire enough land. He states, “If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself!” The Devil is first introduced when he is recognized to be inferior by a mere serf. The juxtaposition of Pahom’s contradiction of his greed for land and acceptance of the peasant life challenges the Devil to tempt him of his desires. Eavesdropping Pahom’s weakness from behind the oven, the Devil takes this opportunity to tempt a ‘satisfied’ peasant with land. “We will have a tussle. I’ll give you land enough; and by means of that land I will get you into my power. ” The Devil wanted to challenge Pahom and provide him land that was necessary, but he knew that Pahom would only lust for more. The series of unfortunate events for Pahom begins as the plot moves forward. Soon after, Pahom acquired 40 acres from a small landowner with an estate of 300 acres. He was well-contented, but then the neighbouring peasants’ animals began to wander among his meadows. After forgiving them multiple times, he finally lost his patience and started to fine people and complain to the District Court. Even though Pahom gained more land, he also gained more problems to deal with, engaging in nonsense he didn’t deal with before his acquisition of more land. While Pahom assumed that getting more land would provide him security and protection, it was the complete opposite. The peasants do not have time for nonsense because they are piled with work to keep them busy, but since the higher classes already acquire their basic necessities for survival, they shift their focus towards things like temptations, pleasures, and even, profit without realizing that the more they earn, the more they can lose.

The Devil attempts to lure Pahom after providing him with the necessary land he had asked for earlier. After hearing rumors that people were migrating to different areas, Pahom decided that it was good news since he’d be able to expand his estate and live peacefully. A peasant passing through the night tells Pahom that many people have migrated to beyond the Volga, where there are 25 acres of land for each settler as he further explains how thick and high the rye sown grew. Compared to the land he ‘owned’ now, Pahom desired to start afresh and hopefully, obtain even better land there. The Devil, unsatisfied with Pahom’s decision of staying is disguised as a peasant to tempt him to migrate and as he’d know that Pahom would be unable to employ his free will and resist the materialistic indulgences. Although Pahom should’ve been content with his 40 acres of land as he’d previously noted, problems arose and his greed for more land grew to be even greater, luring him into the Devil’s realm and straying him away from God. Pahom’s obsession with ownership of land and wealth precipitates him to move and eventually forget about a place he calls ‘home’ to settle. Little does he realize, Pahom begins to abandon his possessions and eventually, learns to abandon God for his land. Alike Tolstoy abandoning his home because he couldn’t endure his luxurious lifestyle, Pahom abandons his peasant lifestyle even if it may lead to his demise.

After Pahom settles at the Volga, he realized that the rumor was true, eventually acquiring 3 times as much as his previous home and is 10 times better off than he was. In the beginning, Pahom was rather pleased, but as he started to get used to his wealth, he realized that he still hadn’t enough land. Having fulfilled his necessities, he realized that it was infuriating to rent other people’s land every year and decided that he wanted be the ownership of his land and become independent. He encountered the Devil again, this time disguised as a dealer, that told him he’d acquired 13, 000 acres of land, all for only 1000 roubles from the land of the Bashkirs. Abusing his free will yet again to the temptation of the Devil, he reached the land and the Bashkir tribal chiefs agree to offer as much land as he wanted a day for only 1000 roubles. In this case, the Baskirs were essentially paying Pahom to be apart of their community rather than for the land, but Pahom’s view and intention was different from theirs, indicating how distant he has disconnected from God. However, there was one condition to the deal as he had to return to his original spot before sunset, otherwise, his money shall be lost. The night before he would mark his territory of land, he had a dream. He dreamt that Baskir chief was outside his tent chuckling at him, only to see him transform into the dealer, the peasant, and then finally, the Devil. Before the Devil was a dead man prostrated on the ground, only to realize it was himself. Completely blinded by wealth, Pahom was unable to perceive this dream as a final warning from God. His subconscious was aware of the Devil’s temptations whereas his conscious self only concerned land. Therefore, Pahom overlooked it as an everyday dream instead of a foreshadow to his demise. Acknowledging Pahom’s greed, it can be assumed that the human nature is greedy and only blinded by wealth. They are never satisfied with what they currently possess because they’ll only desire more. This pertains to Adam and Eve and ever since that incident, we are all considered to be sinners at birth that must seek redemption to be forgiven. The human condition is explored and it’s inability to never be satisfied especially if one is enslaved to materialistic values as opposed to those who focus on external values that are permanent. “The grass is greener on the other side” is the mindset of Pahoms’ as the Devil makes him undergo the series of events that eventually lead to his demise. While the peasants are happy and empty, Pahom and the wealthy are not empty, but simply dissatisfied.

Pahom over calculates how much land he is able to mark and as the end of the day approaches, he realizes it is too late. The theme of abandonment reappears as he is abandoning his possessions and clothing in order to officially claim his land. With this, he runs to his original spot with only his scalpel and he just makes it. As he approaches death and truth, his possessions only hold to be temporary. In addition, the distance from his original spot exemplifies his isolation from the community due to such temptations. The readers recognize that he barely makes it back, indicating that the Devil has won him over as even “his legs were giving way as if they did not belong to him”. Pahom’s greediness gets the best of him and makes him fall to death from exhaustion. Ironically, the scalpel he uses to mark his ‘ownership’ of the territory is used to dig his grave, bringing the readers the answer to the title. “Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed. ” Tolstoy hints that land shouldn’t be entitled and owned to anyone, except the creator of it, which is God. The fact that Pahom wants ownership of land exemplifies his desire to not only obtain wealth and power, but to essentially be God. Even after claiming his territory, the only territory that he now truly ‘owns’ is the land he is buried deep within. This is important because asking that question, how much land does a man need assumes that a person has a greedy mindset so they must realize their limit. Pahom acquired so much land that he almost couldn’t see it beyond his own eyes. The peasant having the same, similar deal only took as much land as they needed. If everyone was like Pahom, there would not be enough land to go around and people would have to pay just to roam the earth. This being, people would be left working for the land that the greedy people have acquired for their own profit. Rousseau mentions that civilization was a corrupting influence because we fine people on property that we don’t even own ourselves. Even though he was able to mark a great amount of territory, he didn’t recognize that it was only temporary. When Pahom is alive, he’ll never acquire all he needs, but when he’s dead and buried, he has finally acquired all he needs. “I’ll never reach that spot” The human nature is that if we are focused merely on materialistic values, we will never be satisfied with what we have as the saying goes, it is good there where we are not. Tolstoy places the ownership of land in juxtaposition with God because he is essentially the true creator and owner. To claim land is to claim to be God. By fostering Pahom to his death, it represents that we belong to the land, not vice versa alike how the one who gives life, takes it away. In a constant battle with time and truth, the Devil tempted and lured him out of time before God was able to help him seek the truth because he abandoned the spiritual aspect in his life. Although God is rarely mentioned in the story, he is always present whenever the enemy, Devil is mentioned. As Pahom is walking back to his original spot, he fears that his body may not allow him to live on much longer. He exclaims, “I’ve plenty of land now, but will God let me enjoy it?” God is the ultimate being that may decide his fate. Despite whether or not Pahom halts to follow the Devil, it is up to God whether he lives or dies despite that he’s gifted humans the opportunity of free will.

To finalize, a simply story was made complex with the inclusion of the Devil. Not only shall we acknowledge and fear the Devil, but we should recognize the excessive power he can exert as God is just as ‘real’ as the Devil. Since Pahom abandoned all spiritual aspects including the Devil during his progression of acquiring luxurious land, he was unable to analyze his dream as a divine warning, his free will was abused, and his human soul was essentially, led astray by the Devil’s temptations. Even though Pahom had the free will to make his own decisions, God is significant in that they decide his ultimate fate whereas the Devil plays a factor in altering the decisions of the human. God gives Pahom the opportunity of free-will, but the Devil attempts to change the moral decisions that is made through his free-will. Pahom abandoned all aspects of his life for wealth, isolating himself from the interconnection to become one. Not only did he abandon God when indulging in materialism, but he failed to recognize the Devil as well.

“What if I’m too late?” From the very beginning, he was unable to perceive the power the Devil is able to exert over him and by the end, he was completely within the Devil’s realm. Perhaps, Tolstoy provided a fable-like story with multiple morals for the sole purpose that a general audience can read and comprehend within their own terms. However, it can be perceived that Tolstoy may have read it in both the social good and religious sense. Pertaining back to Rousseau, he can very much agree with the younger sister of the story. Paradise is not conquer, separation and wealth. He argued that civilization was a corrupting influence and those who lived within nature were much purer and healthier due to the simple life. This being, Tolstoy would too, agree that the peasants live a spiritual life, free of temptations, luxurious goods, and most importantly, free of the Devil and closer to God.

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