How Much Land Does a Man Need?

by

Leo Tolstoy

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How Much Land Does a Man Need?: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At the new commune, Pakhom is allotted one hundred acres of land, twenty-five acres for each member of his family. He is also granted use of the communal pasture and finally has plenty of good, arable farmland. He begins to grow corn and wheat.
Initially, Pakhom’s new commune is described in nearly utopic terms. Pakhom has over three times the amount of land he owned in the village, and in addition to wheat, a common farm staple, he can now grow corn. The new commune provides Pakhom with increased social mobility.
Themes
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It is not long before Pakhom begins to feel cramped at this commune as well. He wants to grow more wheat but does not have enough suitable land. The commune proves to be short on land and the poorest peasants must mortgage their wheat to merchants to pay their taxes. Pakhom rents additional land to sow more wheat, but this land is far from the village and inconvenient.
Pakhom’s greed makes his happiness impossible. He has more than enough land to live comfortably, but he is only happy if he turns a profit as well. There is not enough land on the commune to meet the basic needs of all the peasants, and while the poor mortgage their wheat to get by, Pakhom secures extra land to make more money. It seems Pakhom embodies the age-old adage, “the grass is always greener on the other side,” as he’s never satisfied with what he has.
Themes
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Pakhom soon grows tired of renting land. He is convinced that owning “freehold” land (property that is not rented or part of a commune) will be more convenient and profitable. However, since land is in such high demand, Pakhom has a difficult time finding suitable land to buy.
Pakhom does not want to work all that hard to make a living—a stark contrast to the hardworking Pakhom introduced in the beginning of the story. Now, he believes that by avoiding rent and communal living through private landownership, his life will be easier, and he will make even more money. 
Themes
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A bankrupt peasant agrees to sell Pakhom thirteen hundred acres of land for a fair price. However, a passing merchant suddenly appears looking for a place to water his horses.
The Devil once again inserts himself into Pakhom’s life, this time disguised as a passing merchant. Considering the pattern the story has taken thus far, the Devil will likely provide another opportunity for Pakhom to sin. 
Themes
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God, the Devil, and Free Will Theme Icon
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The merchant tells Pakhom that he has just returned from the far-away land of the Bashkirs, where he had purchased thirteen thousand acres of land for one thousand roubles. In addition to a few presents for the Bashkirs, the land had only cost him twenty copecks per acre. The merchant says the Bashkirs are “as stupid as sheep and you can get land off them for practically nothing.” Pakhom quickly forgets about the bankrupt peasant and decides to travel to the Bashkirs. 
The property that the merchant tells Pakhom about is far from the commune, creating distance from the complicated hierarchy of Russian society and drawing increased attention to its flaws. However, the Bashkirs are still described as less than the Russians. Where the Russians are smart, the Bashkirs are stupid and easily taken advantage of, and Pakhom has no objection to taking advantage of them, underscoring his moral decay and greed.
Themes
The Corrupting Nature of Greed Theme Icon
Class and Society Theme Icon