(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In simple language, this compact narrative presents the correspondingly uncomplicated and short life of Alyosha, from his early years with his family in a village to his death at age twenty-one from an accident while working in town. The plot can be divided into three phases, in each of which the protagonist is abused in some way. The first phase shows Alyosha’s life from early childhood through his eighteenth year, as the spindly lad grows up with his peasant family in a village. Despite his build, he is hardworking and is abusively overtaxed with farm chores by his mother and father, leaving him little if any time for school, which Alyosha has found difficult from the beginning.

Because of his cheerfulness (derived from good-heartedness, the narrator implies), Alyosha uncomplainingly bears his labors, his parents’ habitual, overly severe chastisement, and the mockery from other youths about his homeliness and clumsiness. The latter occasions his nickname, when after accidentally breaking a pot filled with milk Alyosha is not only beaten by his mother but also tauntingly dubbed “the Pot” by his peers, whose childhood cruelty complements that of the adults.

In the second phase of the plot, Alyosha is apprenticed by his father to a town merchant, replacing Alyosha’s brother, who has been drafted into the army. Despite initial doubts and insults about Alyosha’s physical capacity for labor, the merchant, along with the rest of the...

(The entire section is 596 words.)