Free Essay on Unveiling Greed: Tolstoy's Parable on the Perils of Insatiable Desires

Published: 2024-01-30
Free Essay on Unveiling Greed: Tolstoy's Parable on the Perils of Insatiable Desires
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Literature
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1640 words
14 min read

In Leo Tolstoy's short story "How Much Land Does a Man Need," we follow Phaom, the protagonist, in an ongoing struggle to get more land to meet his needs. While once content with his status as a poor farmer, land ownership deflated his satisfaction and made him eager to earn more land, even though his needs would not be met by any amount, leading to his death. Greed is overwhelming Phaom and leaving him oblivious to his surroundings for positive things. This paper assesses what the protagonist wants and what he needs and the irony and the parable in it.

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The complot starts when Phaom, the main character, is a poor countryman who lives in Russia. He had a home, a wife and children, a roof, and food on the table. He had a family. After a visit from his oldest wife, he boasts "We farmers have no time to let any fool sit in our heads, as long as we are from childhood till Mother Earth. Our only problem is that we don't land sufficiently. I shouldn't fear the Devil himself if I had plenty of ground! The Devil, the novel's antagonist, heard the remark of Phaom and took it as a challenge to offer the countryside to have it in its hands. " (Tolstoy 1). This causes tension as Phaom's covetousness overcomes him by the temptations of the Devil.

In this tale, the Devil takes several ways to lure Phaom to appease him with more land. First, Phaom appears to be the soldier employed to supervise her female's boss land. The soldier would stop anyone who used or trespassed through the land, which drove Phaom to hold his desire to use the land and want his land. When her female boss agrees to sell her property, Phantom takes this chance and uses his savings and money to pay half the land prize. The agreement is to pay the other half by the end of two years. With the piece of land, Phaom did well, having good crops, which allowed him to clear his outstanding debts one year after he bought it. But this to Phaom wasn't enough, and he still felt unsatisfied.

Though he did well, he was tired of the land, and he became overwhelmed by animals and people trespassing carelessly through his land. A different kind of temptation came to Phaom in the form of a peasant who happened to spend a night with him. The peasant told him about a place called the Volga where every man was and granted 25 acres. The farm, he said, was as good because the "rye sown there flourished as a horse." (Tolstoy 3) Phaom and his family were fascinated by this after selling all his possessions, land, and livestock in the following spring. He bought 125 acres of land and was well spread over this nation. He had a decent and flourishing wheat crop, but his greed had been taken over, and he still felt like he needed more virgin soil to plant more wheat. Phaom rented various land plots for a while, and sowed plenty of wheat but didn't want much more of hired land. Although he had enough, or just what he needed for the moment, his wants could not allow him to sow on his land first and save up some money.

A third time, the Devil was seen by Phaom, this time as a dealer who bought Phaom's feeds. The dealer spoke about the new 13,000-acre property he bought from the Bashkir for 1,000 rubles. All he had to do was make friends with the Bashkirs, give them gifts, and sell their land for nothing. In exchange for much land, Phaom went out with one of his men and brought gifts with him. In another form of temptation, the Bashkir's leader made a bargain with Phaom that he could possess as much as he covered in a single day over 1000 rubles. He began with the fox's head and marked the land with a hole at each point, then turned and took it back to the point of departure by sunset. All the land Phaom had covered would now belong to him.

Phaom's tale's dramatic climax came when he had a dream that he saw all the men who were purchasing more property. The laughing Bashkir's ruler, a farmer, a soldier, and a dealer all converged with one another until he eventually saw the Devil himself sat there chuckling with hooves and horns, and laid a man barefoot, prostrate him with only pants and a shirt." He woke up and brushed away his dream, "What do you dream about?" (Tolstoy 7) Phaom chose to ignore this warning and allowed his greed to control his actions.

The next day, Phaom went out to get the land he was looking for. He took his spade and went as far as he could to claim the land. It became hotter, and he started pulling off his clothes, and took his boots away, leaving him as the guy he had seen in his dream with just a pair of pants and a shirt. His appetite for more land overwhelmed Phaom so much that he went too far and could not make it in time. He fell all down, throwing away his lifeline water but still held on to the spade. Like the sunset, he was still running out, and even though he was dehydrated and physically tired, he persisted. Although he saw the Bashkir joyfully at the finishing, he did not believe he would finish successfully. He recalled the dream once more when he saw the chief of the Bashkirs smiling.

"It's the abundant ground," said he, "but is God going to let me live? I lost my life; I lost my life! I lost my life! I'm never going to get there!" (Tolstoy 9). Phaom let the Devil's greed overwhelm him and didn't use his common sense to know that his decision to withdraw was a dying force. He died when he hit the fox's cap, and his slave dug a hole with a spade for him. In the end, the tale responded that the hole "was all he required, six feet from his head to his feet" (Tolstoy 9). The spade, the emblem of his greed, dug Phaom's grave to him, which was the only land left to him; a grave.

How much land does a man require? Phaom already had everything he required. However, Phaom was illusionary in wanting to have more land because the more he purchased, the more he desired to. The Devil had succeeded in enticing and obsessing him with the desire for more, which put his family under his mediocre life to follow a dream that could never fulfill him. Whatever Phaom's success was, he was never satisfied and was never happy with his life.

Tolstoy wrote a parable from a man who had a temptation to own land but could never be fulfilled. It didn't suffice him, no matter how much land he possessed. On the other hand, the grass always looked greener, and a desire to want more was always spurred. Tolstoy teaches a lesson that in life, there are always things we want. True happiness does not come from those things we desire or the physical assets we possess but from appreciating what we have. Things such as family, friends, food, and shelter should not be overlooked or taken for granted. Whenever Phaom wanted to buy more land with a bigger size and better yield potential, he lost track of his moral compass. He did not understand the basic lesson in this story, and he took everything he wanted and needed for granted, though it was all before his eyes.

The irony of this story is that Phaom, as a farmer, tells his baby sister that a farmer's life is better than that of a rich urban resident. There's no one to answer to for the kind of carefree life lived by peasants. However, it's quite ironic that he never was satisfied with the life he argued was better than urban life. The urban life is something he once despised. Further, when working for the female landowner, he hated being fined for situations beyond his control, such as cattle wandering off into the land to destroy crops. However, the same events re-occurred on the property when he became the landowner. The cows and farmers trespassed through the land and destroyed part of his crops in many instances. The horses were going to eat their maize, too, without any control. By driving them away, he attempted to settle this by himself. However, it persisted, prompting him to seek help with the District Court. Phaom said, "I can't keep overlooking it, or they're going to ruin everything I've got. They need to be given a lesson" (Tolstoy 3). Phaom imposed high fines on the other peasants. His greed and selfishness had caused him to forget his previous position with the female landowner. He put the peasants in a tight spot as it was with him only that he received some grace from his employer.

This tale tells the story of a tempted man to pursue something that would not fulfill him, abandoning a life that was satisfying for him. Too much pride and greed will open the door to temptation and lead people down the wrong path as it did for Phaom. Just as the story's parable teaches, if people open their eyes to consider and not take for granted the things that are around them, there will ultimately be no disappointments. Phantom was happy once with his place in life, but he lost the path and followed certain death when he chose green pastures waved over his head.

Works Cited

Tolstoy, Leo; Maude, Louise; Maude, Aylmer; Lock, Margaret. How Much Land Does a Man Need? Brisbane, 1986.

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Free Essay on Unveiling Greed: Tolstoy's Parable on the Perils of Insatiable Desires. (2024, Jan 30). Retrieved from

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