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Fathers and Sons: A Close Look at the Most Crucial Passages

Much of the tension in Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons arises from the conflict between the two main characters, Bazarov and Arkady. Bazarov is a nihilist and the catalyst for much of the action of the novel. He does not share the romantic views held by Pavel and Nikolai Petrovitch, Arkady’s uncle and father, and this position alienates him greatly from the other main characters. Arkady, Bazarov’s best friend, admires Bazarov’s courage at the start of the novel, and he follows Bazarov closely, thinking he believes in nihilism. However, upon his arrival at his father’s estate, he begins to see that he is not of the same mold as Bazarov. The two key passages chosen for exploration in this essay reveal this changing attitude of Arkady and also the progression of Bazarov into a romantic character. The first key passage (pg. 33-34; quoted below) indicates Arkady’s initial movement towards romanticism. Turgenev describes Arkady’s developing fascination with nature and romanticism through his prose and also presents Bazarov’s bold statements concerning nihilism through the dialogue, generating early tension between the two opposing ideological views. The second key passage, near the end of the novel (pg. 150-151; quoted below), describes Bazarov’s farewell to Arkady as he leaves Madame Odintsov’s estate. Turgenev again presents the ideological tension between the two friends, although the characters’ attitudes towards each other have progressed greatly from the first passage. By the second key passage, Arkady has fallen in love with Madame Odintsov’s sister, Katya, and has fully embraced romanticism, while Bazarov, after being spurred by Madame Odintsov, uses nihilism as a shield for the wounds created by his unrequited love for Madame Odintsov. Turgenev resolves the tension between the two friends in the passage through a display of emotion, the first and last of its kind in the novel between Arkady and Bazarov. While both characters hold fast in their ideological beliefs, Turgenev suggests in the second key passage that Arkady and Bazarov part as friends and that Bazarov’s hidden romantic tendencies reveal a prevailing of romanticism over nihilism.

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At the start, the first key passage serves the purpose of strengthening Bazarov’s beliefs in nihilism. The passage takes place after Bazarov’s arrival to Mariyno, Nikolai Petrovitch’s estate in the Russian countryside. Bazarov’s nihilistic views have already been made apparent to Arkady’s relatives, but Arkady stayed true to his friend despite the clear opposition between Bazarov and the Petrovitch family. As Bazarov and Arkady walk through the gardens of Mariyno, Turgenev makes Bazarov’s views apparent in his dialogue. Bazarov explains that nature is “foolery in the sense you [Arkady] understand it. Nature’s not a temple, but a workshop, and man’s the workman in it” (line 19-20). Bazarov suggests with the word “temple” that nature should not be worshipped as an authority, but merely used for utilitarian purposes. He tells Arkady that “what does matter is that two and two make four, and all the rest is foolery” (line 14-15), and this “foolery” clearly includes Nikolai’s playing of the violoncello. Upon hearing the music, Bazarov bursts into laughter and exclaims, “Upon my word, a man of forty-four, a paterfamilias in this out-of-the-way district, playing on the violoncello!” (line 33-34). This comment not only boldly ridicules romanticism but also offends Arkady personally and gives him cause to come to the defense of his family, leading to his shift to romanticism.

The first key passage is especially significant in that it indicates Arkady’s changing attitudes towards Bazarov and nihilism. Turgenev’s prose makes this shift apparent. While Bazarov disdains those who worship nature, Arkady looks “pensively at the bright-coloured fields in the distance, in the beautiful soft light of the sun” (line 16-17). The visual imagery in Arkady’s view of nature exhibits his idea of beauty in nature and also his newfound interest in romanticism, which Turgenev presents as the opposing ideological view in the first passage. Through further description, Turgenev suggests that he shares Arkady’s views, and his prose foreshadows the eventual triumph of romanticism — for example, Turgenev describes the music, Schubert’s “Expectation,” as flowing “with honey sweetness through the air” (line 24). Arkady also begins to defend his family and countrymen from Bazarov’s attacks. When Bazarov insults the Russian people, Arkady remarks, “I begin to agree with my uncle… you certainly have a poor opinion of Russians” (34). When Bazarov belittles Arkady’s family upon hearing the music of the violoncello, Arkady, “much as he revered his master… did not even smile” (line 35-36), revealing a significant shift from the start of the novel. While Bazarov is still Arkady’s “master,” Turgenev, in the first key passage, presents the beginning of Arkady’s movement toward romanticism and starts to create tension between the main characters.

The second key passage occurs directly after Arkady’s marriage proposal to Katya, to which she agrees. Bazarov has had much time to contemplate his situation with Madame Odintsov and the differences between Arkady and him while at Nikolshoe, Odintsov’s estate. Arkady’s engagement makes Bazarov realize the extent of the ideological gap between the two friends, although he is secretly angry that Arkady is able to express himself to Katya while he still has difficulties in showing any love towards Odintsov. Thus, in a headstrong and bitter manner, he says farewell to Arkady in the second key passage. Turgenev once again makes Bazarov’s nihilistic assertions known through his dialogue, although in this passage, Bazarov instead compares himself to Arkady. Bazarov tells his friend that he is “not made for our bitter, rough, lonely existence,” and he calls Arkady “a sugary, liberal snob” (150-151). Bazarov also emphasizes Arkady’s fragility, telling him, “You won’t fight… Our dust would get into your eyes, our mud would bespatter you” (150). He exclaims that his goal is “to smash other people,” a clearly nihilistic view, and he resents Arkady’s “refined indignation” (150) as another point of weakness. When Arkady asks if he has anything else to say, Bazarov cannot reply in fear of expressing “sentimentalism” (151). However, he does support Arkady’s way of life in the sense that he does not believe Arkady could do better. Immediately before he leaves, Bazarov compares Arkady to a jackdaw — “a respectable family bird” — and tells Arkady to “follow that example,” for Bazarov wants nothing to do with a respectable life. His nihilism is still alive and persistent at the final parting of the two friends, although he understands Arkady’s point of view, and this awareness relieves some tension between the two friends.

From Arkady’s point of view, the second key passage signifies a complete removal of any previous nihilistic views and an embracing of romanticism. First of all, Arkady’s situation at this point is drastically different from Bazarov’s; Arkady is marrying his lover and starting a family, while Bazarov is leaving his lover behind. While this discrepancy is a point of contention for Bazarov, it lightens Arkady’s attitude towards Bazarov because Arkady no longer needs to believe in nihilism for companionship. Turgenev describes Bazarov as Arkady’s “former leader,” suggesting that, by letting Bazarov leave and staying with Katya, he can express his romantic views with no need for censorship. Even still, Bazarov’s parting comments hurt Arkady, but he too understands that the two have their fundamental differences. The breakthrough moment of emotion comes when Arkady embraces Bazarov and “the tears fairly [gush] from his eyes” (151). Throughout the novel, Bazarov described crying as a disdainful act, one that showed unnecessary emotion. In this final passage between the two friends, however, Arkady fully exposes through his tears not only his romanticism but also his love for Bazarov, and this expression of emotion resolves the final tension between the two conflicting ideologies.

Through these two key passages, Turgenev develops a relationship between two main characters that is fundamentally based on discrepancies. From the start of the novel, Bazarov is shown to be a nihilistic character who does not surrender to any authority, and Arkady professes himself to be of the same mind. However, Arkady’s return to his home revives his romantic instinct and sets him apart from Bazarov, as introduced in the first passage. During the conversation in the garden at Mariyno, Turgenev introduces Arkady’s romantic views and creates tension between the two friends. As the novel continues, Arkady’s ties to nature and his family become too strong to be destroyed by Bazarov, and his relationship with Katya only cements those views. Bazarov, on the other hand, also shifts towards romanticism in the novel when he meets Madame Odintsov, although he is disgusted with his own emotions. When Arkady declares his love for Katya, Bazarov finally realizes that he and Arkady are fundamentally different and that Arkady has changed. Bazarov has not lost his nihilism, and Arkady has not abandoned his romanticism; but in the second key passage, through mutual understanding, the tension relaxes as the two are able to say farewell peacefully. Turgenev does not force one ideological position to the top but instead recognizes that Bazarov and Arkady are not similar people and thus cannot follow the same path. In Bazarov’s final instructions to Arkady, to follow the example of the jackdaws, Bazarov displays tolerance for Arkady’s beliefs, the strongest emotion he allows himself to show, and he even encourages him to follow Katya’s lead. The tension resolves even further as Arkady, through the tears of his embrace, openly displays his love for Bazarov for the first time, and, in Bazarov’s departure, the two are brothers once again.

Works Cited

Turgenev, Ivan. Fathers and Sons. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1998.

First Key Passage (pg. 33-34):

The friends walked a few paces in silence.

“I have looked at all your father’s establishment,” Bazarov began again. “The cattle are inferior, the horses are broken down; the buildings aren’t up to much, and the workmen look confirmed loafers; while the superintendent is either a fool, or a knave, I haven’t quite found out which yet.”

“You are rather hard on everything to-day, Yevgeny Vassilyevitch.”

“And the dear good peasants are taking your father in to a dead certainty. You know the Russian proverb, ‘The Russian peasant will cheat God Himself.’”

“I begin to agree with my uncle,” remarked Arkady; “you certainly have a poor opinion of Russians.”

“As though that mattered! The only good point in a Russian is his having the lowest possible opinion of himself. What does matter is that two and two make four, and the rest is all foolery.”

“And is nature foolery?” said Arkady, looking pensively at the bright-coloured fields in the distance, in the beautiful soft light of the sun, which was not yet high up in the sky.

“Nature, too, is foolery in the sense you understand it. Nature’s not a temple, but a workshop, and man’s the workman in it.”

At that instant, the long drawn notes of a violoncello floated out to them from the house. Some one was playing Schubert’s Expectation with much feeling, though with an untrained hand, and the melody flowed with honey sweetness through the air.

“What’s that?” cried Bazarov in amazement.

“It’s my father.”

“Your father plays the violoncello?”

“Yes.”

“And how old is your father?”

“Forty-four.”

Bazarov suddenly burst into a roar of laughter.

“What are you laughing at?”

“Upon my word, a man of forty-four, a paterfamilias in this out-of-the-way district, playing on the violoncello!”

Bazarov went on laughing; but much as he revered his master, this time Arkady did not even smile.

Second Key Passage (pg. 150-151):

“And now, I say again, good-bye, for it’s useless to deceive ourselves — we are parting for good, and you know that yourself… you have acted sensibly; you’re not made for our bitter, rough, lonely existence. There’s no dash, no hate in you, but you’ve the daring of youth and the fire of youth. Your sort, your gentry, can never get beyond refined submission or refined indignation, and that’s no good. You won’t fight — and yet you fancy yourselves gallant chaps — but we mean to fight. Oh well! Our dust would get into your eyes, our mud would bespatter you, but yet you’re not up to our level, you’re admiring yourselves unconsciously, you like to abuse yourselves; but we’re sick of that — we want something else! We want to smash other people! You’re a capital fellow; but you’re a sugary, liberal snob for all that — ay vollatoo, as my parent is fond of saying.”

“You are parting from me for ever, Yevgeny,” responded Arkady mournfully; “and have you nothing else to say to me?”

Bazarov scratched the back of his head. “Yes, Arkady, yes, I have other things to say to you, but I’m not going to say them, because that’s sentimentalism — that means, mawkishness. And you get married as soon as you can; and build your nest, and get children to your heart’s content. They’ll have the wit to be born in a better time than you and me. Aha! I see the horses are ready. Time’s up! I’ve said good-bye to every one… What now? embracing, eh?”

Arkady flung himself on the neck of his former leader and friend, and the tears fairly gushed from his eyes.

“That’s what comes of being young!” Bazarov commented calmly. “But I rest my hopes on Katerina Sergyevna. You’ll see how quickly she’ll console you! Good-bye, brother!” he said to Arkady when he had got into the light cart, and, pointing to a pair of jackdaws sitting side by side on the stable roof, he added, “That’s for you! Follow that example.”

“What does that mean?” asked Arkady.

“What? Are you so weak in natural history, or have you forgotten that the jackdaw is a most respectable family bird? An example to you!… Good-bye!”

The cart creaked and rolled away.

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