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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.”
(p 214)
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
moved.
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
that live on the land, the Bashkirs, are a very simple and
happy people. They do not speak the same language as Pahom,
though. These people are the native Americans. As the
European settlers moved west they came across the natives.
Tolstoy describes:
“They were all stout and merry, and all the summer long
they never thought of doing any work. They were quite
ignorant, and knew no Russian, but were very
good-natured.” (p217)
When people first encountered the Indians, they thought them
to be stupid and lazy, easy to take advantage of. With the
help of a translator, Pahom makes his purposes know. The
Chief, though, speaks Russian. Many native Americans knew
how to speak English because they were constantly exposed to
English speaking men. They made a deal that whatever deal
Pahom could walk around would be his. His greed was out of
control at this point. He was so sure about how much land
he could cover that he thought he was stealing for them.
The night before he had a dream that the devil was
sitting over his dead body laughing. He dismisses it and
goes back to sleep. The next day he starts out to stake his
claim. He is trying so hard to get as much as possible that
he miss judges how far he has gone and begins to have
problems walking. He is tired, hot, and hurt. He has to
start running to make it back in time. Pahom begins to
realize that he should not have been so greedy, as it is
taking it’s toll on him. He barely makes it back on time,
and alive. Right as he gets to the finish, he sees the
Chief sitting and laughing, just like the devil in his
dream. He collapses and dies right as he finishes. He is
buried right there.
“His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long
enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six
feet from his head to his heels was all he need.”
(p 222)
This story represents the greed present in Americans
during the time of the settlement of western America.
Americans were very greedy people. They were never content
with what they had and, in more than one way, destroyed
their own lives to try and get more for themselves.
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