"How Much Land Does A Man Need?" by Leo Tolstoy

The Greed of Americans During Westward Expansion

The story, "How Much Land Does a Man Need?", by Leo Tolstoy

is a story about Americans taking advantage of the Indians.

Although it is set in Russia, it is about the greed that

many people had at the time and the outcome of that greed.

The opening scene represents the Europeans coming over

to America. During that time, the mid-1800's, the Europeans

were rich and their relatives in America were poor. The

younger sister in the story represents the Americans and the

older sister represents the Europeans. The poor Americans,

like the younger sister in the story, did not mind having to

work hard all the time. They enjoyed their freedom and

security. Even though they were content, it wasn't

complete. In the story, Pahom agrees with his peasant wife

but wishes they had more land to work with.

"Our only trouble is that we haven't land enough. If I

had plenty of land, I shouldn't fear the Devil

himself!" (p 212)

The devil here is greed itself. It is here that we see the

greed begin to manifest, as it did in Americans over a

hundred years ago.

The story goes on and we see Pahom becoming agitated

the he has to pay fines all the time because of his animals

wandering. This represents the American people having to

pay fines, such as taxes and tariffs, to the government in

the mid-1800's. Pahom lives in a commune and some of the

people have begun to buy their own tracts of land. He sees

this and decides that it would be a good idea if he did the

same thing. He was worried that if he didn't act soon, he

would miss his chance. He wouldn't have to pay any fines

and could keep all the money he makes. The more people

heard about it, the more they wanted it for themselves.

Pahom finally gets his own land and is happy with it.

Inevitably, some problems arise with Pahom's land.

Other people's animals were getting onto land and ruining

his crops. At first he just put up with it. Eventually

though he became a hypocrite.

"So he had them up, gave them a lesson, and then

another, and two or three of the peasants were fined."

(p 214)

He began to impose fines on people the same way they were

imposed on him earlier in the story. Needless to say,

people were very angry with him. Some people began to leave

the commune, eastern United States, and leave for new parts,

the west. Pahom was content to stay until he heard from a

stranger that the land was great where people were moving.

This could be compared to news getting back to the east

coast about all that was happening on the move west. So

Pahom went to check things out, liked what he saw, and


Here things went well, for awhile. Pahom was happy

having ten times as much land. He had land for everything

he needed. But after awhile, it came to be to little. His

greed was growing out of control. He was ready to buy more

land but a passing stranger told him about a place he had

just come from, more news from the west. Pahom was told

about the best land ever and how cheap it was. Pahom

travels to inquire about the land. When he arrives, he

finds it just as he was told it was going to be. The people

that live on the land, the Bashkirs, are a very simple and

happy people. They do not speak the same language as Pahom,

though. These people are the native Americans. As the

European settlers moved west they came across the natives.

Tolstoy describes:

"They were all stout and merry, and all the summer long

they never thought of doing any work. They were quite

ignorant, and knew no Russian, but were very

good-natured." (p217)

When people first encountered the Indians, they thought them

to be stupid and lazy, easy to take advantage of. With the

help of a translator, Pahom makes his purposes know. The

Chief, though, speaks Russian. Many native Americans knew

how to speak English because they were constantly exposed to

English speaking men. They made a deal that whatever deal

Pahom could walk around would be his. His greed was out of

control at this point. He was so sure about how much land

he could cover that he thought he was stealing for them.

The night before he had a dream that the devil was

sitting over his dead body laughing. He dismisses it and

goes back to sleep. The next day he starts out to stake his

claim. He is trying so hard to get as much as possible that

he miss judges how far he has gone and begins to have

problems walking. He is tired, hot, and hurt. He has to

start running to make it back in time. Pahom begins to

realize that he should not have been so greedy, as it is

taking it's toll on him. He barely makes it back on time,

and alive. Right as he gets to the finish, he sees the

Chief sitting and laughing, just like the devil in his

dream. He collapses and dies right as he finishes. He is

buried right there.

"His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long

enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six

feet from his head to his heels was all he need."

(p 222)

This story represents the greed present in Americans

during the time of the settlement of western America.

Americans were very greedy people. They were never content

with what they had and, in more than one way, destroyed

their own lives to try and get more for themselves.

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