How Much Land Does a Man Need?


Leo Tolstoy

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Kumiss Symbol Icon

In Tolstoy’s story, the beverage named kumiss is used to represent an appreciation of life’s pleasures, in contrast with a constant striving for more. Kumiss is mildly alcoholic and holds much cultural significance. Consumed during certain times of the year and during celebrations, the Bashkirs consider kumiss, made from the milk of mares, to be a magical cure-all, and they eagerly offer some to Pakhom upon his arrival in a gesture of friendship and good will. Upon observing the Bakshirs, however, Pakhom notes that “all the men seemed concerned with was drinking kumiss and tea, eating mutton and playing their pipes.” The Bashkirs lack Pakhom’s greedy ambition, and in fact don’t seem compelled to work their land at all; on the contrary, they are content to enjoy the simple things in life—such as kumiss, music, and the company of neighbors. After Pakhom negotiates the land deal with the elder Bashkir, he offers Pakhom more kumiss, tea, and mutton, which they which they happily consume together, suggesting a celebratory atmosphere following their agreement. In the morning before Pakhom’s walk, the Bashkirs offer him yet more kumiss, but this time he declines. He is eager to start walking—and, it follows, to secure his land. This last offer of kumiss represents a test of sorts, a final chance for Pakhom to savor the pleasures of the world in front of him rather than reject them in favor of the promise of wealth. Pakhom’s rejection of the kumiss foretells his failure, and he dies as he circumnavigates the Bashkirs’ land.

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Kumiss Symbol Timeline in How Much Land Does a Man Need?

The timeline below shows where the symbol Kumiss appears in How Much Land Does a Man Need?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Class and Society Theme Icon
...don’t plough their fields, and allow their livestock to wander freely. They happily sit drinking kumiss, simply enjoying each other’s company. Pakhom describes them as kind, ignorant, and speaking no Russian. (full context)
The Corrupting Nature of Greed Theme Icon
Class and Society Theme Icon
...interpreter, the Bashkirs warmly welcome Pakhom, providing him with a luxurious tent and plenty of kumiss. They slaughter a sheep to feed him, and Pakhom presents them with his gifts. Per... (full context)
Chapter 6
The Corrupting Nature of Greed Theme Icon
Death and Pride Theme Icon
...perimeter along the way. Pakhom instantly agrees to the terms and they celebrate with more kumiss, tea, and mutton. (full context)
Chapter 7
The Corrupting Nature of Greed Theme Icon
Death and Pride Theme Icon
...nearly sunrise, and he goes to wake the Bashkirs. They assemble and offer Pakhom more kumiss, but he declines, anxious to start his walk. (full context)