Bazarov is a revolutionary, part of the intelligentsia of the mid-nineteenth century Russian clime. He has had the privilege of education, has a profound (but perhaps misdirected) interest in society, and even holds the radical philosophy of nihilism; his idealistic goal is to destroy all of the “impractical” that is valued by society. He maintains this mentality without consideration for rebuilding or restructuring.
Bazarov rejects the “outdated” values of the older generation because he can see no purpose in them. Radicals around Bazarov’s time, although not really nihilist, were accused of being such because they were dissatisfied by the current political situation, and yet could to properly express what it was that they wanted to achieve.
Bazarov is a realist in the sense that he scorns everything that does not have a practical purpose. He espouses a scientific mind and disorients many. He approaches everything with as much scientific objectivity as possible and insists that emotions and other human abstractions are nonsensical and only serve to weaken a man.
Bazarov and his class dominated the intellectual clime for some time in the mid 1800’s. In some way, he exemplifies how the Russian intellectuals were starting to think of their society in those times. At the beginning, Bazarov scorns art, literature, and the like because these things are “impractical” and mean nothing to him. He is adamant with his philosophy of nihilism even at the expense of estranging the older generation.
Also, Bazarov is naive enough to believe that he “understands” the plight of the Russian peasant, and so he associates with them, unaware that in they laugh at him behind his back. Bazarov’s manner of associating with the peasants parallels what happened around 1868 in Russia, where intellectuals from large universities put on peasant attire tried to gain the confidence of the peasants and interest them in revolutionary activities. The peasants did not understand what it was about, and reported them to the police.
Bazarov also rejects the traditional idea of love, yet when finally meeting Odintsova, is unable to adhere to this ideal of his, and is not able to “have his way” with her. Finally, Bazarov strays from his original ideal. Here we see the incompatibility of Bazarov’s nihilistic ideas with human nature.
He would certainly have found the situation ridiculous if it had been another person in his place. Even he, as a nihilist, could not resist his feelings of “love”. He calls for a totally different understanding of social behavior. However, we see some shortcomings of the nihilists of Bazarov’s time; Bazarov demonstrates this when he falls in love with the lady Odintsova.
If Bazarov’s ideals are to be realized, then he must surely be content to live without the benefit of human company, yet he shows his shortcoming upon knowing Madame Odintsova. Odintsova wants only to keep traditional values; she does not want to become attached to Bazarov because she feels that Bazarov will destroy the orderliness of her own life.
Arkady’s uncle, Pavel Petrovich, belongs to the older generation. He is an elegant member of the aristocracy who contrasts sharply with Bazarov. Although he has some liberal ideas, he seems to be hopelessly content with his world. He is Bazarov’s constant antagonist. Both have a negative view of each other: Bazarov views Pavel as outdated and weak, while Pavel sees Bazarov as foolishly aggressive and misdirected (it is interesting that Bazarov does not really know how to explain the nihilism that he espouses to this older generation typified by Pavel).
He delights in affecting European habits, and peppers his speech with French phrases, typical of the educated Russians of the time, who mainly communicated in French and used Russian only in conversation with lower classes.
Pavel’s problem is that there is social change happening, yet he is unable to accept these changes because they have been too ingrained in him. He especially cannot digest nihilism. Pavel adheres to his concepts of the ideal, but he is ineffective in the practicalities of life.
The similarity in Bazarov and Pavel is that they are both unyielding in their ideological convictions. This is where we see that both extreme attitudes will necessarily fail. Arkady, on the other hand, is young and fresh and keep s an open mind, and we see that it is Arkady who successfully achieves that desirable balance of the new and the old.
During this time Russian society was divided into distinct social classes. The relationship of Arkady’s father, Nikolai, and Fenichka demonstrate significant advances in the mentality of the socially superior classes.
Nikolai becomes confused about Arkady’s calm acceptance of his relationship with Fenichka because, despite his ideas, he is unable to completely get rid of the old convictions of his class, typical of the aging gentry who somehow understand that the current society needed restructuring, but is unable to let go of old convictions.
Nikolai actually married a servant; their wedding is significant in that they show that, as early as then, it was possible for a good association to exist between the landowner and the peasant. The relationship of the landowners and the serfs were also changing. Before the serfs were granted their freedom, many intellectuals had voluntarily freed their serfs, as Nikolai and Bazarov had done.
Fenichka is the embodiment of the Russian peasant of the time, almost faceless among the gentry. Fenichka does not presume to initiate events, but only serves as an influence upon her surroundings. Because of her, Pavel and Bazarov duel.
In Fenichka and Piotr, both of the servant class, we see the ongoing changes in the attitudes of lower classes in Russia, who do not readily show acceptance of their lower status, while Prokofitch, a servant belonging to the old generation, comes forward to kiss his master’s hand.
In the duel between Bazarov and Pavel, we see that both the new and old generations are affected into action by a mere peasant girl. Both generations want the peasantry on their side.
Nikolai and Pavel, who hold the more “sensible” traditional values, try to argue that any philosophical concept must have an end. Bazarov insists that he, as a nihilist, is interested only in destroying the established impracticalities—it is a concept of pure negation.
Bazarov succeeded in converting Arkady (temporarily) to his views, but fails to convince Arkady’s father and uncle. This can be taken to mean that Bazarov’s Nihilist views are only believable or feasible in Arkady’s (and his own) naivety, his limited experience, but will not stand the test of time and the nature of man. Or we can also see it as a demonstration, in the eyes of the new liberals of Bazarov’s time, of how rigid and immobile the old, outdated generation has become.
Arkady is the typical youth, one of those fresh, naive minds that are to form the bulk of the new generation Russian intellectuals. He is one of those open minds willing to change, and who often do end up making the great changes in society.
Arkady initially is convinced of the superiority of the nihilist views because of Bazarov’s influence, but over time feels the shortcomings and difficulties that lay in Bazarov’s companionship, and realizes how important to him the old values scorned by Bazarov are. At the end, Arkady resolves his own mind and is no longer a mere protege of Bazarov. Arkady finally acknowledges in himself the he still appreciates the “impracticalities” that Bazarov so scorns. Arkady and Bazarov finally separate and each goes his own way.
In the end, it is only Arkady who experiences a metamorphosis, and is the better for it. In him is the good balance of the old “impracticalities” and the valuable practicalities espoused by the new generation, without resorting to the extreme nihilism and negation of Bazarov.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. “Fathers and Sons.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fathers_and_Sons (accessed 10 February 2006).
Daniel Hocutt. “Tracing Byron’s Influence on the Creation and Development of the Nihilist Bazarov in Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons” http://www.richmond.edu/~dhocutt/bazarov/nihilist.htm (accessed 10 February 2006).
Richard Peace, University of Bristol. “Ottsy i deti [Fathers and Children; Fathers and Sons] .” The Literary Encyclopedia. The Literary Dictionary Company. http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=11252 (accessed 10 February 2006).