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.)
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...
(The entire section is 562 words.)