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."
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
Tolstoy's short story "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" is a cautionary tale focusing on greed and the cost of wasting time chasing more instead of enjoying what we have now.
There are several ways to address the work in an essay. Most essays focusing on other written works are critical essays briefly summarizing the content and commenting on the piece. To begin, you will need to determine a thesis. The simplest thesis statement is a comment on the intention of the work. The goal throughout the essay is to defend your position.
The opening of the work sets the scene for the entire story. The Devil tempts Pakhom through the introduction of embellishments about available land. The scene comments on unseen forces eager to woo unsuspecting or foolish people into believing wild tales of a better life somewhere else.
As the story progresses, Pakhom is overcome with envy as those around him are buying land. He buys land and it seems as if he is to be content. However, he becomes angry when his land is violated by his neighbors and files grievances against them. Tolstoy may have been commenting on the lack of compassion by landowners. Again, envy comes to play when a traveling peasant brings news of a wide open space where Pakhom could own much land.
Eventually, Pakhom made his way to an area controlled by the Bashkirs who promised him as much land as he could cover by walking in one day. The deal sounded too good to be true, another commentary on foolish investments by Tolstoy. Pakhom walks the land and realizes too late he will not return in time to seal the deal. Rather than cut his losses, he exerts himself until he falls and dies at the finish line. He is buried by his slave and Tolstoy closes out the story with the explanation that all the land Pakhom needed was six feet from head to toe.
Throughout the work, Tolstoy is giving clues and commentary on the reaction to envy, greed and failure. As you go through the story, summarize a few paragraphs and comment on how Tolstoy used the plot to further his intention of commenting on greed.
I've included a rough sketch of how to set up your essay and how much of the page you should use to address each area.
Page One: 1/3 Introduction (Include thesis statement); 1/3 Summarize Chapters 1 & 2; 1/3 Comment on how the plot moves (envy, greed, etc.)
Page Two: 2/3 Summarize Chapters 3 -5; 1/3 Comment on the plot
Page Three: 2/3 Summarize Chapters 6-8
1/3 Comment on the plot
Page Four: 1/3 Summarize Chapter 9; 1/3 Comment on plot; 1/3 Closing remarks (how relevant is the story? how did it make you feel? did you enjoy it?)