How Much Land Does a Man Need?

by

Leo Tolstoy

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Themes and Colors
The Corrupting Nature of Greed Theme Icon
Class and Society Theme Icon
God, the Devil, and Free Will Theme Icon
Death and Pride Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in How Much Land Does a Man Need?, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Corrupting Nature of Greed

Leo Tolstoy’s 1886 short story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” centers on Pakhom, a peasant farmer whose insatiable desire for land brings about his downfall. The story begins when Pakhom unwittingly extends a dare to the Devil, claiming that with enough land he would have nothing to fear. Pakhom’s subsequent, insatiable pursuit of land leads him down a path of increasing selfishness and avarice, until he ultimately drops dead in his…

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Class and Society

In “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” Tolstoy places a critical lens on the social hierarchy of Russian society, in which the poor are routinely deprived to ensure that the rich remain wealthy. Peasants in the story are depicted as second-class citizens, and Pakhom’s desire for more land stems in large part from a desire for upward mobility. Although Pakhom is overcome by his greed, Russian society is structed in such a way…

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God, the Devil, and Free Will

As one of only three named characters in “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”, the Devil plays a crucial role in Tolstoy’s story. Early on Pakhom declares that with enough land, he would “fear no one–not even the Devil himself!” The Devil, eavesdropping nearby, receives this statement as a personal dare and sets the events of the story in motion. Even as the Devil tempts Pakhom, however, it is Pakhom himself who takes the…

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Death and Pride

Tolstoy’s portrayal of death in “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” is powerful and absolute, and no amount of land or material wealth can protect Pakhom from its reach. Yet when death comes for Pakhom during his attempt to walk the Bashkirs’ land, he repeatedly disregards it and shows surprisingly little fear. It is not simply greed that blinds Pakhom to the danger he is in, however, but also his own pride. Pakhom…

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