Characters

  1. Children: The first who found the grain as big as a hen’s egg 
  2. Traveller: The one who bought the grain from the children and sold it to the king. 
  3. King: Ruler of the land, now who possesses the big grain. 
  4. Wise Men: Smart men who are pondering what the grain could be and where it came from.

Introduction

A Grain as Big as a Hen’s Egg’ is a parabolic short story penned by one of the greatest Russian writers of all time, Leo Tolstoy. The short story brings out the central meaning of self-sufficiency and people following a system similar to a very rustic or basic form of socialism. This form of socialism was observed in the early days of our history when we had evolved from being nomadic hunters to being grain sowers. At that time, the barter system existed, and people never had any land issues or disputes because the land belonged to everyone as a community.

Summary

Some children discover a giant grain

One day it was discovered by some children in a ravine, a thing shaped like a grain of corn with a groove down the middle. But the corn was as big as a hen’s egg. A traveller passing by saw the thing and bought it from the children for a penny. He took the corn to the town and sold it to the king as a curiosity. The king called all the wise men together to find out what the thing was. No one could know the thing. Once it was lying on a window-sill, when a hen flew in and pecked at it till she made a hole in it. Then it was known by everyone that it was a grain of com. 

The king was surprised and ordered the learned men to know when and where such corn had grown. But the learned men after searching in their books found no answer about the whereabouts of the com. But they suggested asking the peasants as some of them might have heard from their fathers about the size of the corn. 

The peasants were called to the king’s palace

As per the king’s order, his servants brought a very old peasant to him. He was old and bent, ashy, pale and toothless. He came with the help of two crutches into the king’s presence. The king showed him the grain and asked if he had seen such corn or had sown such in his fields. He answered that he had never sown nor reaped any like that in his fields. He had never bought like that. He said that the grains were as they are now. He suggested the king that he might ask his father who might have heard where such grain had grown. So, the king sent for the old man’s father who was brought before the king. He came walking with one crutch.   

The king showed him the grain. He was able to see it better than his son. Although the old man was rather hard of hearing, he still heard better than his son. When he was asked by the king whether he had sown such grain or had reaped such a corn like that, he answered that he had never sown nor reaped any such corn in his fields. As to buying, he never bought any, for in his time money was not yet in use. Exchange of goods for goods was prevailing. There was a sharing life. The com was larger and yielded more flour than present day grain. But he never heard any like that. He suggested that the king had better ask his father. 

The old man’s father was brought before the king

So, the king sent for this old man’s father. He was brought before the king. He walked without crutches. His eyesight was clear. His hearing was good too. He spoke distinctly. The king showed him the grain. The old man looked at it and turned it about as in his hand and he tasted a piece off. The king wanted to know whether he had ever bought any like that or sown any like such in his fields. 

 The old man replied that corn like that used to grow everywhere in his time. They were sowing and reaping and threshing corn like that size. Each man had corn enough of his own. They had known nothing of money. The king wanted to know where his field was, where he grew corn like that. The old man replied that land was free. That was a thing no man called his own. Labour was the only thing called their own. 

The king wanted the answer of two more questions from that old man. The first question was why the earth bore such grain then and ceased to do so now. The second question was why his grandson walked with two crutches, his son with one and he himself with none. His eyes were bright, his teeth sound and his speech clear. The old man replied that now-a-days men have ceased to live by their own labour and have depended on others. In old times, they lived according to God’s law.

Conclusion

The short story “A Grain as Big as a Hen’s Egg” is written from an objective, omniscient point of view, observing each event that led to the eldest man’s story without participation in the action or commentary on its own presence, remaining anonymous to the reader. The message in the story although not stated directly, is one of humility and content with one’s life, an attempt by the author to make people realize how greed can overcome a person, affecting not only mental health, but physical health as well.