Alyosha the Pot

by Leo Tolstoy

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What is the culture from which the story "Alyosha the Pot" comes?

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"Alyosha the Pot" is set in some unspecified time--but probably in the 1800s--and place in the Russian countryside at Easter time, as Lent and Shrovetide--which are Easter related holidays--are referenced in the story, giving a symbolic connection from Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection to Alyosha's fall from the roof and three days of debility preceding his peaceful death. The culture of the Russian country village is one which Tolstoy has often depicted with clarity. People work hard and live very simple lives with very few possessions, but time is still found for celebrations around special days and events. This aspect of the Russian peasant culture is sorely missing from Alyosha's life.

Count Tolstoy believed that the peasant lifestyle represented the appropriate and right way to live. In fact, he almost abandoned his manor and estate to live a reduced life of simplicity in accord with peasant life. Tolstoy's enchantment with peasant life was altogether different from the Romantics' idealization of country pastoral life and common people, themes, and language because Tolstoy changed his lifestyle to fit the peasants' and vigorously advocated that it was the only Christian way to live, an idea that was sound at heart but may have been encumbered by naive omission of logical progression of thought, such as the necessity of education in molding a peasant class that lived without psychological violence and physical abuses such as Alyosha suffers in the story.

Which brings up the point that it is very unusual for Tolstoy to paint any aspect of peasant life in such deeply a negative light as he does in "Alyosha the Pot." Perhaps it is his acquiescence to the afore mentioned naivete and the recognition that, while the peasant life is the sublime ideal of Christian virtue, there are irreconcilable ills to such a life that are intrinsic to an unguided human nature. The peasant culture that Tolstoy paints in this story is rife with cruelty but, nonetheless, Alyosha stand out as the emblem of what Tolstoy believes to be the true representation of Christian values and truth, even in the midst of the destructive beliefs, values and behavior.

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