Alyosha the Pot by Leo Tolstoy

This morning I read Alyosha the Pot, a very short story by Leo Tolstoy. If you’ve got 15 minutes I encourage to take a break, jump over to google books and read the story. It’s beautiful and heart breaking, and would be great to discuss. I won’t say too much about the story because it is so short, but this if you’re interested in reading it don’t read what I’ve written below because it might tip off some of the story.

One quote that stands out to me is this:

Alyosha did not know any prayer and had forgotten what his mother had taught him But he prayed just the same every morning and every evening prayed with his hands crossing himself.

The whole story follows this young man, whose body, rather than his thoughts or savvy dialogue, develop for us a picture of what one is like who never becomes for himself an individual.

Two other aspects that stand out to me as important are his being named “the pot,” for this seems to signify taking on the name and expectation of others, rather than living into and creating his own story. Of course, a deeper question is why was he unable (or unwilling) to do this?

Secondly, I’m interested in what this might say about spirituality. In the same way that one could say Alyosha’s life was content-less, one could say that about his spirituality (he prayed with his hands). There is no content, only form. Yet, Tolstoy finds it important to mention that this was still his prayer, in the context of the story, it seems as though that was a true sign of faith. Even though he couldn’t express it in his own words, his body did it for him.

Another thing I read into this story concerning this idea of content and spirituality is that the love he is offered, which is in the palm of his hands, was the kind of love that breaks people free from bondage and liberates the self.

How about you, what are you thoughts and reflections on it?

If you’ve read the story: What do you like about the story? What do you think Tolstoy is underscoring in the narrative?

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

9 thoughts on “Alyosha the Pot by Leo Tolstoy”

  1. I enjoyed this story because in some way Alyosha really speaks to me. As a person who overthinks, loses touch with myself, and occasionally gets so hooked on other people's "wants" from me, I see a lesson in Alyosha's simple willingness. Just this week I've been speaking a lot with a friend abut commitments, saying "yes" to things whether or not we are sure we can do them. To me, it doesn't seem like Quaker truthfulness, but my friend argues there is something more to life than constantly judging ones boundaries or distance in relation to those around. While I doubt I could ever live as Alyosha, I am thankful for the message of willingness and trying one's best. At the end of the day, I suspect it leads more easily to openness and fellowship than making sure I am always saying exactly what I think I mean even if life has moved on by the time I can spit it out.

  2. I have the temerity to post without having read the story so I apologize in advance if this misses the point:

    In Russian Orthodox tradition it is customary to cross oneself as one prays. At one point in Russian history, the question of whether to cross oneself with two fingers or three was quite controversial.

    The form without words seems to me in one sense the perfect counterweight to a tendency among some I know to go on and on and on with many words only to arrive at something that is still ultimately ineffable.

    This summer at the Annual Session of North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Friend in Residence John Calvi talked about sometimes merely being a vessel or more piquantly the toilet paper roll. Perhaps he was channeling Tolstoy.

    1. Thanks for sharing this background. It's not something I was aware of.

      And I really appreciated this remark:

      \”The form without words seems to me in one sense the perfect counterweight to a tendency among some I know to go on and on and on with many words only to arrive at something that is still ultimately ineffable.\”

      Wess

    2. Thanks for sharing this background. It's not something I was aware of.

      And I really appreciated this remark:

      \”The form without words seems to me in one sense the perfect counterweight to a tendency among some I know to go on and on and on with many words only to arrive at something that is still ultimately ineffable.\”

      Wess

    3. Thanks for sharing this background. It's not something I was aware of.

      And I really appreciated this remark:

      \”The form without words seems to me in one sense the perfect counterweight to a tendency among some I know to go on and on and on with many words only to arrive at something that is still ultimately ineffable.\”

      Wess

    4. Thanks for sharing this background. It's not something I was aware of.

      And I really appreciated this remark:

      \”The form without words seems to me in one sense the perfect counterweight to a tendency among some I know to go on and on and on with many words only to arrive at something that is still ultimately ineffable.\”

      Wess

    5. Thanks for sharing this background. It's not something I was aware of.

      And I really appreciated this remark:

      \”The form without words seems to me in one sense the perfect counterweight to a tendency among some I know to go on and on and on with many words only to arrive at something that is still ultimately ineffable.\”

      Wess

    6. Thanks for sharing this background. It's not something I was aware of.

      And I really appreciated this remark:

      \”The form without words seems to me in one sense the perfect counterweight to a tendency among some I know to go on and on and on with many words only to arrive at something that is still ultimately ineffable.\”

      Wess

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