How Much Land Does a Man Need? | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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How Much Land Does a Man Need? | Symbols


Pahom's Spade

Pahom's spade represents his personal ambition. He uses the spade to mark off the tracts of Bashkir land he wants to own in Parts 8 and 9. As he makes his marks, he envisions how he will use the land, recalling his daydream of ownership and control in Part 7. The spade becomes a tool for him to put his dreams into practice.

Ultimately, however, the tool is ineffective. By Part 9 Pahom must race to make it back to the steppe in time. He discards all his belongings but the spade, indicating he prioritizes ambition over his physical needs. His last desire is a hunger for land, and in a case of situational irony, what happens is the opposite of what he expected. His desire leads to his death from exhaustion.

The Sun

The sun represents divine authority and its ability to overpower humans. When Pahom accepts the Chief's challenge to mark off all his land in a day, he pictures his future wealth before he's even earned it. As the day begins, Pahom walks toward the rising sun. This direction indicates he is aiming for more power than ever. He believes he controls his own fate, placing himself on a footing with the divine.

But the sunlight takes a physical toll on Pahom as the day goes on. His heat exhaustion shows that his ambition is futile against the larger forces of nature. When the sun goes down, the narrator adds the ominous statement "The sun waits for no man." Pahom can't outsmart nature no matter how well he plans. The setting sun suggests the inevitability of death for all. Accordingly, Pahom dies just as the sun goes down. Late in the evening, the sun appears "red as blood," foreshadowing the blood coming out of Pahom's mouth as he dies.

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