Fathers and Sons

Fathers and Sons (1862) is considered to be Ivan Turgenev's best novel and one of the most famous books to have been written in 19th-century Russian literature. Turgenev's novel was also the first Russian novel to reach popularity in Western Europe. Fathers and Sons explores generational differences in a rapidly changing Russia and the conflicts that may arise from such vast differences.

Fathers and Sons Fathers and Sons

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Contents
Table of contents

    One of the main characters of the novel is Yevgeny Bazarov, who represents nihilism. The Bolshevik revolutionary, Vladimir Bazarov (1874–1939), who contributed to the end of the Russian monarchy, adopted his pseudonym Bazarov off the character in Fathers and Sons.

    Fathers and Sons: Author and Context

    Fathers and Sons, Photo of Moscow Russia, StudySmarterFathers and Sons is set in Russia. Pixabay.

    Fathers and Sons was written by Ivan Turgenev in Russia during a time that saw a cultural shift beginning to form between the older and younger generations. In the 1830s-1840s, the nihilist movement was growing in popularity, and many young people began to adhere to its principles.

    Nihilism is the renunciation and rejection of religious and moral principles because everything in life is meaningless. Nihilists were skeptical of everything and rejected all social orders. The character of Bazarov in the novel represents nihilism, and when Fathers and Sons was published the term 'nihilism' was popularized.

    On the other hand, older generations believed in liberalism and sought the expansion of both political and civil freedoms. They valued individualism and equal rights and sought a free economy.

    The only factor uniting the younger nihilists and the older liberals was their belief in spreading Western ideas and beliefs to Russia in an attempt to modernize the country. Those who advocated for Russian spiritual purity and traditionalism were termed Slavophiles.

    Another key event in Russia was the 1861 Emancipation Manifesto that freed all state-owned serfs by 1866.

    A serf was a peasant agricultural laborer that was bound to work on a lord's estate under the feudal system. The feudal system had four levels: The monarchy, the nobles and lords, the knightly class, and the serf class. Serfs lacked any freedoms and were not considered free citizens.

    23 million people received emancipation and gained all the rights of a free citizen, including the right to own land. Turgenev strongly believed in freeing the serfs, and it's believed his novels influenced the emancipation of the serfs. In the novel, Nikolai, who owns an estate, has freed all his serfs.

    Fathers and Sons: Summary

    Arkady Nikolaevich decides to return to his father's estate Maryino after completing his studies at the University of St. Petersburg. His father, Nikolai, is excited to see his son. Arkady has also brought along his friend Yevgeny Bazarov. The two young men brought along with them a new philosophy, known as nihilism, which clashes with Nikolai's brother Pavel, a retired general.

    Nikolai freed his serfs and is now selling off his land to remain financially afloat. Nikolai also has a son with his former servant, Fenichka, named Mitya. Bazarov goes to collect frogs one morning, so Nikolai and Pavel take the opportunity to ask Arkady about Bazarov. Arkady begins to enthusiastically explain that Bazarov is a nihilist. This rubs the older men the wrong way.

    The novel is set prior to the Emancipation of the serfs in 1861. This means Nikolai has chosen to free his serfs out of his own free will. Nikolai may have done this because he truly believed in the freedom of the serf class, or because his property was in financial ruin and he had to sell off the land. Whatever the case may be, Turgenev is clearly sending a message that serfdom goes against human rights and is an outdated system.

    Upon returning home, Bazarov and Pavel get into an argument, and even Arkady begins to see how rude Bazarov can be. Arkady tells Bazarov about Pavel's life in an attempt to make him friendlier towards his uncle. Pavel was once a great general and respected in society. Pavel fell madly in love with Princess R., who ended up dying of insanity after rejecting Pavel. This has left Pavel bitter.

    A few weeks pass before a massive fight between Pavel and Bazarov explodes. Pavel argues that Russians are traditional, faithful people that must live on principle, while Bazarov believes that everyone, especially young men, should question everything—even if it is traditional. Nikolai realizes he went through the same thing with his mother when he was younger.

    Bazarov and Arkady go to visit Arkaydy's successful relative, Matvei Ilyich Kolyazin, in a nearby town. Kolyazin invites them to a ball. Later that day Bazarov meets Victor Sitnikov, who is an old friend. He invites them to drinks with Madame Kukshin, who is an older woman who is passionate about women's rights. Bazarov finds her uninteresting.

    The long Russian names and many nicknames that were given to a singular character in Fathers and Sons can become confusing, so let's break it down! The name Matvei Ilyich Kolyazin has three parts: a first name, a patronymic, and a last name. The patronymic is the name derived from the father's name. Therefore the character's first name is Matvei, his patronymic Ilyich is derived from the father's name, Ilya, and the family name is Kolyazin.

    Anna Sergeyevna Odintsov, a friend of Madame Kukshin, is at the ball when she meets Arkady and Bazarov. Arkady finds her extremely attractive and speaks to her all night but she seems preoccupied with Bazarov. Anna grew up with her sister Katya. Anna had been married to Monsieur Odintsov, but he died and left her a great fortune.

    She invites Arkady and Bazarov to her hotel and her country home, Nikolskoye. Anna and Bazarov become close, leaving a frustrated Arkady to spend the majority of his time with Katya. Bazarov falls in love with Anna, but she rejects his proposal of love. She had told Bazarov she felt incomplete and that happiness will never find her.

    Sitnikov arrives at Nikolskoye uninvited, and this prompts Bazarov to go visit his parents and Arkady to leave. Rather than return with Sitnikov to Marino, Arkady leaves with Bazarov. On the journey there, the two young men discuss how they had behaved like fools over a woman, and that Bazarov is over Anna.

    Bazarov's parents are happy to see him. Arkady speaks with Bazarov's father, Vassily Ivanych, and they both agree Bazarov will be a great man. Bazarov seems to be in a bad mood and is annoyed by his parents. Arkady and Bazarov fight after Arkady criticizes him for his cynical attitude. Bazarov decides to leave, leaving his parents upset.

    Fathers and Sons, a father hugging son, StudySmarterFathers and Sons explores differences between older and younger generations. Pixabay.

    Arkady convinces Bazarov to stop at Anna's home which ends up being a very short visit due to the awkward atmosphere. They return to Marino but Arkady obsessively thinks about the Odintsovs. Arkady finds his excuse to go back and visit Anna when Nikolai shows Arkady letters between Arkady's mother and Anna's mother. Anna is delighted, but Arkady is more interested in Katya.

    Bazarov isolates himself at Maryino and is even tolerated by Pavel. Bazarov begins to form a close relationship with Fenichka, Nikolai's lover. Bazarov kisses her, and Pavel catches him as he had been hiding behind a nearby bush. This leaves Fenichka angry and embarrassed. Pavel remains quiet but challenges Bazarov to a duel. Piotr, a servant, acts as the witness.

    Pavel misses Bazarov when he shoots first, but Bazarov is able to shoot Pavel in the thigh. Bazarov runs to help him, and as Piotr goes to grab help, the two men agree they fought over Western politics. Pavel can heal and Bazarov leaves. Pavel encourages Nikolai to marry Fenichka, which he is delighted to do. He hadn't originally because he feared Pavel's disapproval.

    Back at Nikolskoye, Arkady is enjoying his time with Katya. They discuss Bazarov and Anna, and Katya is delighted that Arkady is no longer under the shadow of Bazarov. Bazarov appears to explain what happened during the dual. Arkady is shocked but is reassured when he hears Pavel is healing. Arkady tells Bazarov to meet Anna.

    Fathers and Sons, panting of Nikolskoye, StudySmarterParts of the novel are set in the country estate of Nikolskoye. Pixabay.

    Despite the discomfort between them originally, Bazarov and Anna find companionship. Bazarov tells Anna how Arkady was interested in her when they first met, which changes Anna's mind about Arkady. However, Arkady takes Katya to the portico the next day and attempts to propose to her. He stumbles over his words and is interrupted by Anna and Bazarov's conversation nearby in which Anna declares her consideration to form a relationship with Arkady.

    However, as soon as Bazarov and Anna walk away, Arkady proposed to Katya and she says yes. Bazarov leaves for home and tells Arkady they shall not meet again, for Bazarov doesn't approve of Arkady's lack of spirit. Despite feeling upset over Bazarov's words, Arkady soon forgets him when he sees Katya. While home, Bazarov aids his father, who is a doctor, in treating the local people. While his father is delighted in Bazarov, Bazarov remains sad.

    While aiding the doctors to open up a man who recently died of Typhus, Bazarov cuts himself. Bazarov becomes seriously ill and realizes he has caught the dead man's disease. Bazarov asks his father to deliver a message to Anna that he is dying. Anna comes to see Bazarov immediately with a German doctor. Bazarov is in a state of delirium and dies that evening. He had thought himself a giant while dying.

    Fathers and Sons, Wedding ring on an open book, StudySmarterThe novel ends with two weddings. Pixabay.

    Fathers and Sons ends with the wedding of Nikolai to Fenichka and Arkady to Katya. Then we learn of all the characters' lives, including Pavel who has decided to live the remainder of his life in Dresden. Bazarov's parents often visit Bazarov's grave to cry and pray over him. They do not believe they grieve in vain despite Bazarov's nihilistic points of view.

    Fathers and Sons: Characters

    Each character in Fathers and Sons plays an important role in the plot of the story and is essential to understanding the novel's main themes.

    CharacterDescriptionRoleQuote
    Nikolai Petrovich KirsanovThe father of Arkady. Nikolai owns the estate Maryino and lives there with his brother. He deeply loves his son but fails to understand his beliefs. He has a relationship with his former servant Fenichka. Nikolai represents the older generation in Russia. He believes in Russian liberalism and opposes his son and Bazarov's interest in Nihilism. “A nihilist,” said Nikolai Petrovich. “That comes from the Latin nihil - nothing, I imagine; the term must signify a man who . . . who recognizes nothing?” (Chapter 5).
    Arkady Nikoleievich KirsanovThe son of Nikolai who has just returned to Mariyno from the University of St. Petersburg. He has adopted nihilism under the influence of Bazarov. He falls in love with Katya despite initially falling for her older sister, Anna. Arkady represents the younger generation in Russia and the influence Nihilism had on them. He loves his father but clashes with his father's liberalism. “I am now no longer the conceited boy I was when I first arrived here,” Arkady continued. “I have not reached the age of twenty-two for nothing; I still have every wish to lead a useful life, I still want to devote all my energies to the pursuit of truth; but I can no longer seek my ideal where I did before.." (Chapter 26).
    Yevgeny BazarovBazarov is Arkady's friend from university who believes in Nihilism. He challenges Pavel often for his traditional beliefs. He falls in love with Anna.Bazarov represents Nihilism. He constantly challenges and questions everyone, especially Arkady's uncle Pavel. "We saw that our clever men, our so-called progressives and reformers never accomplished anything, that we were concerning ourselves with a lot of nonsense, discussing art, unconscious creative work, parliamentarianism, the bar, and the devil knows what, while all the time the real question was getting daily bread to eat..." (Chapter 10).
    Pavel Petrovich KirsanovPavel is Arkady's uncle who lives with his brother, Nikolai, at Maryino. Pavel was a former general and is proud of his traditional beliefs. Pavel, despite believing himself to be progressive, cannot understand the younger generation's interest in nihilism. He still believes in tradition, and by challenging Bazarov to a dual, he reveals his traditionalist values of honor and respect."Pavel Petrovitch then sat down to table. Clad in an elegant morning suit of English cut, he was flaunting on his head a diminutive fez which helped the carelessly folded tie to symbolize the freedom of a country life... supported with its usual rigor an immaculately shaven chin" (Chapter 5).
    Anna Sergeyevna OdintsovaAnna is a widow who inherited a fortune from her late husband. She is fascinated by Bazarov but rejects his love offer. Anna has no aspirations or goals in life, which leave her unsatisfied. She has also never been in love and sees it as meaningless. She is quite nihilistic, but her relationship with Bazarov questions her beliefs about love and life goals.“Let bygones be bygones,” she said, “especially as, to be quite frank, I was also to blame, if not by being coquettish, then in some other fashion. In short, let us be friends as we were before. The other was a dream, was it not? And whoever remembers dreams?” (Chapter 25).
    Katya Sergeyevna LoktevaKatya is Anna's quieter and more modest younger sister. She lives in Anna's shadow. Throughout the novel, Arkady and Katya slowly realize their love for one another. Katya is a down-to-earth character with a warm heart. She helps Arkady leave Bazarov's nihilistic influence and find the joy and beauty of life and love. "Katya adored nature, and Arkady too loved it (though he would never have admitted the fact), to Madame and Bazarov the charms of the natural world represented more or less a matter of indifference" (Chapter 17).
    FenichkaNikolai's former servant and lover. She has a son with Nikolai, Mitya, and lives with him. Traditional beliefs have prevented her from marrying Nikolai, but ultimately they do. Fenichka is a reminder of social class structures in 19th-century Russia. Fenichka was a former servant, which meant she is in a lower class than Nikolai, who is her lover. Their social class difference was the one obstacle preventing Nikolai from marrying Fenichka. "For what was to be done with the young Thenichka, who had inherited her mother's love of orderliness, and also her mother's good sense and natural refinement? In the end, she was so young and lonely, and Nikolai Petrovitch was so good-hearted and modest, that the inevitable came about. The rest need not be related" (Chapter 8).

    Fathers and Sons: Analysis

    Fathers and Sons, Open book, StudySmarterFathers and Sons belongs to the Realism genre. Pixabay.

    Fathers and Sons is a highly influential novel for its contributions to the Realism genre, its impressive writing style, and discussions on themes, such as generational differences.

    Genre and Writing Style

    Fathers and Sons is a novel that belongs to the Realism genre of literature.

    Realism is a literary movement from the 19th century that focused on depicting the everyday and mundane life experiences of people. It valued objectivity and realistic descriptions over subjectivity and individuality.

    The plot of the story highlights a plausible tale as well as realistically displays cultural and philosophical beliefs that were in Russia in the mid-19th century. This includes discussions on serfdom, social class, nihilism, and liberalism.

    Now, as fate would have it, he had just removed to his new house, and, owing to a reluctance to continue keeping bonded serfs, was on the look-out for hired domestics; while she, for her part, was in despair over the question of the hard times, which caused only a limited number of visitors to resort to the town" (Chapter 8).

    In this quote, we can see how Turgenev incorporated contemporary politics and realities into Fathers and Sons. Here Nikolai invited a housekeeper into his home as he feels uneasy owning serfs. The tale shows the growing dislike of the serfdom system in Russia. It also shows that former serfs often lived in poverty and had to take any job available to them, such as Nikolai's new housekeeper.

    Turgenev's writing style is considered precise, careful, and moving. Turgenev does this by writing emphatic sentences full of imagery and powerful words.

    In the early days of June, the best season of the year, the weather became beautiful. True, from afar there came threatenings of cholera, but to the local inhabitants, such visitations had become a commonplace. Each day Bazarov rose early to set forth upon a tramp of some two or three versts; nor were those tramps undertaken merely for the sake of the exercise (he could not abide aimless expeditions), but, rather, for the sake of collecting herbs and insects" (Chapter 10)

    Turgenev's description of June as a time of beautiful weather provides readers with imagery of a warm day in which even threats of dangerous disease aren't enough to thwart its enjoyment.

    The Setting, Point of View, and Literary Devices

    The novel provides two contrasting ideas about the differences between city settings and country settings. The majority of the novel takes place in the countryside of Russia in the late 1850s. Certain characters, such as Arkady and Katya, enjoy the beautiful nature that can be found in the countryside, while characters such as Bazarov see the countryside as a backward, uneducated place. Bazarov believes that cities are where vibrant and educated people go to live fulfilling lives. He finds no meaning in the routine lives of the peasants and landowners in the countryside.

    It is indeed a terrible thing to have lived five years in the country, and to have stood remote from superior intellects!" (Chapter 6).

    Here Bazarov states how he believes living in the country isolates an individual from intellect.

    The novel is written in the third-person point of view, which means an anonymous narrator is telling the story. The narrator describes the settings, the actions of the characters, and also provides opinions on certain situations. There are also many literary devices that Turgenev implements to captivate the reader.

    Turgenev uses imagery to paint vivid pictures in the reader's mind, ranging from descriptions of people to descriptions of landscape. Another important literary device that Turgenev uses is called parallelism.

    Parallelism is a literary device in which two subjects in a written work share similar elements and characteristics. It can also be when phrases, sentences, and paragraphs mirror each other to create a balance.

    In the novel, Bazarov and Arkady are parallels. They both represent the younger generations' interest in nihilism and newer philosophies. Their philosophies tend to conflict with the older generations. They are also both attracted to Anna when they first meet her. However, their paths diverge when Arkady is willing to sacrifice his philosophical beliefs for family and love, while Bazarov is firm in his nihilistic beliefs until his death.

    Themes

    A theme is a reoccurring idea or subject that can be found throughout a written work. Themes further emphasize the main message of the text. Fathers and Sons contain two key themes: generational differences and love versus nihilism.

    Generational differences

    Turgenev wished to highlight the growing shift in Russian society between the older generation and the younger generation. While both younger and older generations believed in the Westernization of Russia, their philosophical beliefs differed. The older generation believed in liberalism, which is a trait seen in the characters of Nikolai and Pavel. The younger generation believes in nihilism, which is seen in the characters of Bazarov and Arkady. These generational differences cause key conflicts within the novel, especially between Pavel and Bazarov—who fight many times throughout the novel, including a dual. Arkady at first believes he must change his father's beliefs and even sees himself as superior to Nikolai. As the novel progresses, Arkady sheds his loyalty to nihilism allowing him to find love for Katya, the countryside, and his father.

    Love versus nihilism

    Fathers and Sons, heart shape cut out, StudySmarterNihilists believe love is meaningless. Pixabay.

    According to Bazarov's nihilistic worldview relationships are meaningless. This means the feelings of love, both romantic and filial, are meaningless as it is the emotion that creates those relationships.

    All that I say is that a man who has staked his whole upon a woman's love, and, on losing the throw, has turned crusty, and let himself drift to such an extent as to become good for nothing" (Chapter 7).

    This quote spoken by Bazarov clearly shows his point of view on love: That it is meaningless and makes men "good for nothing".

    Even the character of Anna, who does not declare herself as a nihilist, has nihilistic views about love. She claims she has never been in love. When Anna and Bazarov begin to share romantic feelings for one another they both reject the feelings. One can even see Bazarov's lack of love towards his parents when he leaves their home after only a few days.

    Arkady on the other hand loves and respects his father and despite following Bazarov's belief in nihilism, is ready to reject it in the name of love for Katya and Nikolai. Arkady proposes to Katya and quickly forgets about Bazarov and nihilism.

    Turgenev was clearly showing that by following one philosophical belief, such as nihilism, it leaves no room for love, and an individual puts themselves in a lonely, dangerous place. For this reason, the death of Bazarov and the happiness of Arkady at the end of the novel are symbolic.

    Fathers and Sons: Quotes

    Below are a few key quotes from Fathers and Sons.

    “But remember the sort of education he had, the period in which he grew up,” Arkady rejoined. “The sort of education he had!” Bazarov exclaimed. “Everyone ought to educate himself—as I’ve done, for instance . . . And as to the times we live in, why should I depend upon them? Much better they should depend upon me" (Chapter 7).

    In this quote we see Arkady and Bazarov discussing generational differences. Arkady tries to justify his father and uncle's points of view by stating they were educated in a different time. Bazarov rejects that notion and believes himself to be superior due to the education he received at the University of St. Petersburg and of what he has taught himself. He also remarks that our education and beliefs should not consider time.

    The rays of the sun on the farther side fell full on the clump of trees and, piercing their foliage, threw such a warm light on the aspen trunks that they looked like pines and their leaves were almost dark blue, while above them rose an azure sky, tinged by the red glow of sunset. Swallows flew high; the wind had quite died down; a few late-homing bees hummed lazily and drowsily among the lilac; swarms of midges hung like a cloud over a single far-projecting branch" (Chapter 11).

    This excerpt exemplifies Turgenev's ability to beautiful and vividly describe a setting. He put a lot of thought and consideration into the words he chose to emphasize the beautiful aspect of nature, such as the rays of sun illuminating the tree, and the "azure sky".

    “I feel particularly sorry for your mother.” “Why? Has she won your heart with her strawberries and blackcurrants?” Arkady looked down at his feet. “You don’t understand your mother, Yevgeny. She’s not only a fine woman, she’s very clever really. This morning she talked to me for half an hour, and everything she said was so to the point and interesting" (Chapter 21).

    Here the reader can see how Arkady is slowly coming out of Bazarov's nihilistic shadow of influence. He can see the value and meaning in the words of everyone, not simply those educated in the city and those who follow nihilism.

    Fathers and Sons - Key takeaways

    • Fathers and Sons was written by Ivan Turgenev in 1862 and is considered to be one of Turgenev's most important literary works.
    • Fathers and Sons was written during a time in Russia when different Western philosophies were adopted by those opposed to traditional Russian ideals. The older generation favored liberalism, while the younger generation favored nihilism.
    • Fathers and Sons follows the story of Arkady and his nihilist friend Bazarov as they conflict with the older generation's differing philosophical beliefs
    • Fathers and Sons belongs to the Realism genre and is known for displaying Turgenev's precise, detailed, and careful writing style full of imagery and observant descriptions.
    • Fathers and Sons contains two main themes: generational differences and love versus nihilism.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Fathers and Sons

    What is the plot of Fathers and Sons

    Fathers and Sons follows the story of Arkady and his nihilist friend Bazarov as they conflict with the older generation's differing philosophical beliefs 

    Who wrote Fathers and Sons?

    Ivan Turgenev wrote Fathers and Sons.

    What is the theme of Fathers and Sons

    Fathers and Sons contains two main themes: generational differences and love versus nihilism. 

    What happens at the end of Fathers and Sons? 

    Arkady marries Katya and Nikolai marries Fenichka at the end of Fathers and Sons. Bazarov dies from typhus.

    From which point of view is Fathers and Sons written? 

    Fathers and Sons is written in third-person point of view.

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