Alyosha the Pot Analysis
by Leo Tolstoy

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Symbolism is pervasive in the story, including many religious allusions. References to Shrovetide and Lent put Alyosha’s death at Easter time, and Alyosha’s death on the third day after his fall (as well as his final request for something to drink) also suggests an analogue to the gospel story of Christ. Ironically, while Jesus arose to life, the downtrodden Alyosha falls and dies; yet if a cruel material world has been persecuting Alyosha in life, death promises escape and possibly reward, which parallels Jesus’s life and message. Even a mark of Alyosha’s homeliness, his large or lop ears, which evoke the ridicule of the other village children, by implication of the simile “stuck out like wings” may ironically suggest not only the manner of his death but also his angelic qualities and future.

The most far-reaching symbolism in the story is that embodied in Alyosha’s nickname, “the Pot.” The pot corresponds to many of Alyosha’s physical features: the prominence of his nose and ears, giving his head a pot or pitcherlike appearance; a certain clumsiness, resulting in the dropped milk pot at the beginning of the story and Alyosha’s own fall and breakage at the end; and a poignant reference to his physical slightness, contrasting with the fullness or heaviness of a filled pot. Furthermore, the pot symbol conveys many attributes of Alyosha’s personality or spirituality. It intimates his capacity to bear, both in physical labor (Alyosha’s incessant hard work) and in suffering or endurance (his toleration of all the injustices continually heaped on him). It suggests that despite his appearance of empty-headedness, Alyosha, whose mouth gapes in a perpetual grin (comparable to the open mouth of a pot or jar), has the capacity to be filled by pleasure from simple things in life or by the tranquillity from an influx of the spiritual.

Finally, the pot symbol points to the cycle of emptiness and fullness in Alyosha’s discovery of love, its removal, and his final transcendence to “the world beyond.” Alyosha’s true love is a cook, whose occupation revolves around pots; after the opening paragraph, she is the only character who explicitly mentions Alyosha’s nickname, doing that, significantly, when she accepts his marriage proposal. At...

(The entire section is 562 words.)