How much Land does a Man needs?

Leo Tolstoy is considered as the greatest writer. His mammoth novel “War and Peace” is considered as the masterpiece. I read it long ago when I was doing my master’s degree. One of our friends gave me the jacket version containing two volume. At first its sheer size was so domineering as to deter me from attempting the reading. I went first for Anna Karenina and some of his stories.

He hailed from a aristocratic family. In his youth he is said to be a spoiled youth. But in the later life, he relinquished all his possessions, handed over the land to the farmers who were earlier working on his fields. His wife was very unhappy at this and there were squabbles in the house. One day after a fight, he left the house in the extreme Russian cold and caught pneumonia and died. He wrote a very beautiful story about the man’s excessive desire to gather more and more possessions. The protagonist in this story is also like this and dies in the end in an effort to acquire unlimited land and his dead body needs only 6 feet of land.  The story summary is taken from Wikipedia.

“The protagonist of the story is a peasant named Pakhom, who at the beginning can be heard complaining that he does not own enough land to satisfy him. He states that “if I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself!”. Unbeknownst to him, Satan is present sitting behind the stove and listening.Satan abruptly accepts his challenge and also tells that he would give Pakhom more land and then snatch everything from him. A short amount of time later, a landlady in the village decides to sell her estate, and the peasants of the village buy as much of that land as they can. Pakhom himself purchases some land, and by working off the extra land is able to repay his debts and live a more comfortable life.

However, Pahóm then becomes very possessive of his land, and this causes arguments with his neighbours. “Threats to burn his building began to be uttered.” Later, he moves to a larger area of land at another Commune. Here, he can grow even more crops and amass a small fortune, but he has to grow the crops on rented land, which irritates him. After buying and selling a lot of fertile and good land;finally, he is introduced to the Bashkirs, and is told that they are simple-minded people who own a huge amount of land. Pahóm goes to them to take as much of their land for as low a price as he can negotiate. Their offer is very unusual: for a sum of one thousand rubles, Pahóm can walk around as large an area as he wants, starting at daybreak, marking his route with a spade along the way. If he reaches his starting point by sunset that day, the entire area of land his route encloses will be his, but if he does not reach his starting point he will lose his money and receive no land. He is delighted as he believes that he can cover a great distance and has chanced upon the bargain of a lifetime. That night, Pahóm experiences a surreal dream in which he sees himself lying dead by the feet of the Devil, who is laughing.In his dream he saw his own death.

He stays out as late as possible, marking out land until just before the sun sets. Toward the end, he realizes he is far from the starting point and runs back as fast as he can to the waiting Bashkirs. He finally arrives at the starting point just as the sun sets. The Bashkirs cheer his good fortune, but exhausted from the run, Pahóm drops dead. His servant buries him in an ordinary grave only six feet long, thus ironically answering the question posed in the title of the story.”

Late in life, James Joyce wrote to his daughter that it is “the greatest story that the literature of the world knows”; Ludwig Wittgenstein was another well-known admirer

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