The Poison of Greed in How Much Land Does a Man Need

Categories: Leo Tolstoy

As humans, we have desires that make us take possession on something more than what we have to benefit us. In this short story, Leo Tolstoy delivers the message that greed, in the end brings us nothing but death itself. This story tells us that even if we have enough to live a life, we are never satisfied with it, the greed in humans always makes us want more than what is enough and if there are odds of becoming wealthier, it is so seductive to us that we are ready to lose everything we love.

Tolstoy starts his story with two women arguing over whose life is better. The question I got from their argument was “Is life better with or without ownership?”. As they continue, Pahom joins and agrees that life without possessions is better hence the fact that they will have no temptations towards wealth and not fear the devil.

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In this story, the devil is greed. But he, himself thinks about having land of his own so he wouldn’t fear the devil. From the beginning, Pahom is a hardworking man, but he makes the mistake of thinking that more land would give him a better life.

He says it himself: “If I had plenty of lands, I shouldn’t fear the devil himself!”. Even though he had a lot of fertile land to grow crops on and not pay fines for his animals, he was not satisfied. Pahom had more than enough land, even then he looked up for more land.

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This reflects the characteristics of greed. Pahom would be fine and happy with the extended land but the human instincts made him get greedier and greedier as time went by.

As the story progresses, Pahom’s behavior reflects the message that greed has no end. As Pahom’s land expanded, he got into many riots with his neighbors which led him to move to different and larger land. Whenever he gets into riots like this with his new neighbors, he moves into new land to satisfy himself; reflecting the greed in him growing. Pahom is thinking that by increasing his land he is getting rid of the devil but he is not realising that it’s the other way around. He is actually becoming the devil for not fearing the devil.

Once, a dealer passing by told him about a lot of lands sold for less money. “If I take it out there, I can get more than ten times as much for the money”, so Pahom put his whole life and hard work in stake for the land. Why do humans always want more? Isn’t there an end for desire? God created humans to be loved and things to be used. But we are following the opposite. Tolstoy here presented the real-life crisis; today this situation has become like an irreversible change. Coming back to the plot the land was obviously just the way the tradesman described. The chief of Bashkirs said, “As much as you can go round on your feet in a day is yours, and the price is one thousand roubles”. Pahom’s greed just got out of control and it took over him. It’s not just Pahom, Tolstoy is talking about everyone who has an endless desire or greed on some “thing”. In the real world, people have greed over various things, not just land, it might be power, love, money, ownership, etc. Power, money and property are correlated in today’s world. I think it’s hard for anyone to earn one of these without having the other two.

Pahom decided to make the most out of it and tried really hard to cover how much ever land he could and was saying to himself that today’s hard work will pay off for lifelong happiness. What he thinks is in fact true, there are people in the real world who keep working hard their whole life and gain huge wealth but by the time they are old and can’t do anything. So there was no point in working that hard. Isn’t everything humans do is for happiness? It was not until his final seconds when Pahom realized that “there is plenty of land but, will God let me live on it”. He finally made it to the starting point but blood flowed out of his mouth and fell dead in front of the chief who was sitting in his chair laughing, and the Bashkirs cracked their tongues to show him their pity.

Here’s the thing, Pahom got a dream a day before his mission for the land. I think that the dream was an act of God to relieve him from the devil and to realise his deeds and return back to his town and live a life with what he has. Everyone who led him to death came to his dream, first it was the Bashkir chief who tricked his mind, then the dealer who showed him the land and tempted his desire, finally the devil who was sitting in a chair and laughing, when a man in front of him lied dead which came out to be himself. All these people signify different aspects of the devil who increased Pahom’s greediness but it was Pahom who killed himself.

Tolstoy’s short story How Much Land Does a Man Need? is a classic, having engaged people from different times and cultures in an important discussion: how much of anything does a man truly need, and what can an obsessive pursuit of material things mean for the health of his soul? A passion that controls you can kill you. This places the duty on each of us to order our affections so that our lives are spent on the greatest good. Sometimes the most important things in life are intangible; the health of one’s soul is often sacrificed to greed. That was the message expressed by Tolstoy in this short story, in the end, “six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed”.


Leo Tolstoy -

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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The Poison of Greed in How Much Land Does a Man Need. (2020, Sep 27). Retrieved from

The Poison of Greed in How Much Land Does a Man Need essay
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