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How Much Land Does a Man Need by Leo Tolstoy

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The story is a classic tale of need versus greed. While people can live happily with their needs, the lure of more can destroy such happiness. In this story the same happens to Pakhom, a hard working farmer who has a small piece of land. He is married to a loving woman who is happy with all that they have.

One day they are visited by their sibling who hails from the city. The two sisters quickly end up discussing the pros and cons of the city and rural life. The wife defends the village’s calm and peaceful life away from the distractions of the materialistic wealth of the city. Pakhom agrees with her assessment but he still expresses a desire to own more land. For him it would provide him a sense of security from any tragedy and mishap.

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Unfortunately, his words fall on the ears of the devil and he accepts his challenge.

A few days later, Pakhom learns about an available piece of land and he arranges enough money to buy a piece of it. Since, it is a collective farm land; there are other farmers as well who cultivate on the surrounding patches of land. This creates some friction between them, as the animals start crossing the boundaries into different patches. They end up eating Pakhom’s crops and this makes him angry. He appeals to the village head but is rebuffed and ridiculed. To make things worse, he is socially bullied and has to move away from the place.

In the new place, Pakhom and his family buy larger land and end up having huge profits. However, this only increases Pakhom’s appetite for more. He arranges to buy a enormous piece of land from a poor farmer who has fallen into bad time. However, in the middle of the negotiations he is interrupted by a stranger who informs him of a more lucrative offer. He tells him about the land of the Bashkirs. These tribesmen were merry makers and would offer unimaginable size of holdings to people who can earn their trust. Pakhom cannot resist and strides away to enquire.

Once in the Bashkir land, he is able to befriend the people and earn their trust. They ask him to choose his piece of land for a fixed sum of money. They allow him to mark the land as far and wide as he wants, as long as he returns to the initial place till sunset. 

Pakhom cannot wait for the night to end and start grabbing as much land he possibly cold. However, he has a nightmare where all the people he had recently met turn out to be the devil and he ends up in a grave on the same land. The next morning, Pakhom shakes of the nightmare and starts sizing up his land. He is very slow and realizes that he has to pick up the pace if he wants to return before the sunset. He ends up sprinting for the last stretch but reaches before dusk. Unfortunately, all the strain on his body ends up killing him. 

In the end he is buried on the same land. Ironically, he only gets enough land to make his grave. That is usually how the devil exploits are greed for the material world and ensures our ultimate demise.   

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