‘Alyosha The Pot’ by Leo Tolstoy

Alyosha The Pot by Leo Tolstoy, 1905

The magic trick:

Giving you a simplistic character in order to develop a complex, powerful idea

“Alyosha The Pot” will tug at your heartstrings, big time. Alyosha is a one-dimensional character. He is essentially flawless when it comes to his heart. In that sense, this is a thoroughly old-fashioned story. We expect our characters now to be more complex, more human. We’ve expected that for a long time. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But there is something magical and timeless about this kind of storytelling. Alyosha’s straight-line character – the way he reacts appropriately and consistently regardless of the injustice around him – magnifies the story’s theme. The point isn’t to give you a well-rounded character. The point is to give you a powerful idea. Maybe our art should do that more often. And that’s quite a trick on Tolstoy’s part.

The selection:

Alyosha was the younger brother. He was called the Pot, because his mother had once sent him with a pot of milk to the deacon’s wife, and he had stumbled against something and broken it. His mother had beaten him, and the children had teased him. Since then he was nicknamed the Pot.

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