Pakhom lives happily as a landowner until the peasants begin trespassing in his meadows and cornfields. He tries to politely ask the peasants to keep off his land but is unsuccessful. He understands that the peasants only trespass because they are short on land of their own, but he fears they will deplete his resources, and he will be left with nothing. Frustrated, Pakhom contacts the District Court
When serfdom was outlawed in Russia in 1861, and millions of slaves were granted their freedom, the number of serfs who were legally entitled to own property greatly exceeded the amount of available land. This creates economic and social hardships that were felt for generations. The peasants must trespass on Pakhom’s land out of necessity, not malice. However, despite his own experiences with poverty and insufficient land, Pakhom is greedy and unsympathetic.
Pakhom repeatedly fines the local peasants, and they become so angry that they begin to purposefully trespass on his land. One day, Pakhom discovers that many of his trees have been cut down and stolen. He is convinced that Semyon, a local peasant, is responsible. Pakhom accuses Semyon without proof, and the magistrates quickly dismiss his case. Pakhom’s neighbors are so angry with his numerous fines that they threaten to burn down his house
Pakhom’s legal actions cause him to lose more in terms of land and natural resources, and his greed causes the ordinarily peaceful peasants to respond violently. Moreover, Pakhom’s greed leads to additional moral decay, as he begins to behave like the old soldier he once hated. He accuses Semyon of stealing, simply because he is a peasant. Pakhom has no tangible proof, but to him, the fact Semyon is a peasant is proof enough that he has stolen the trees.
Although Pakhom has plenty of land, he begins to feel cramped on the commune. He hears rumors that many of the peasants are considering relocating to a different village. Pakhom relishes the opportunity to buy their land, making his estate bigger.
Pakhom’s greed intensifies. He owns more than enough land to live comfortably, yet he still desires more, suggesting that his wants will never be satiated. The peasants want to relocate because he has made them miserable, but instead of recognizing this, Pakhom considers their misfortune another chance to satisfy his greed.
In the meantime, a traveling peasant seeks food and lodging at Pakhom’s cottage. The peasant tells Pakhom about a village commune south of the Volga river where families are given twenty-five acres of land per person at no charge. In addition, each member of the commune is also able to purchase more land for three roubles per acre.
Pakhom sells his land, home, and cattle for a profit and moves his entire family to the large village commune south of the Volga river. He is convinced that he will face less trespassing and less aggravation if he has more land.
The fact that Pakhom sells his property for a profit also has a negative connotation when it comes to his ethics and morality. A profit suggests that Pakhom either underpaid the initial seller or overcharged the buyer. Either way, Pakhom’s profit seems like a form of theft itself.