“Fathers and Sons” is, perhaps, the most interesting book by the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev, which gained international recognition. It has been first published in 1862 and concurred with a complicated period of Russian history, known as the “Great Reforms”. Abolition of serfdom, reforms of administrational system, industrialization and raise of revolutionary ideas caused profound changes in the Russian society and in the minds of people. Turgenev’s book is devoted t this dramatic mental and psychological break.
“Fathers” are old generation who share conservative views and “sons” are youth, dreaming of revolution and demonstrating nihilism and disrespect towards traditional values. The narrator of the story – Nikolai Petrovitch Kirsanov, is a son of a general, who has been a hero of Napoleonic wars. His life is rather unremarkable. Being unable to serve in the army because of the childhood trauma, he has married and lived happily with his wife till her early death. After that he devoted all his life to his only son Arcady.
The novel opens when the older Kirsanov stands before the door of his dominion waiting for his son returning from the university. Finally the son comes back, but he is not alone, he is accompanied by his new university friend Yevgeny Vasil’evich Bazarov. Soon Nikolai Kirsanov finds out, that his son has completely fallen under influence of Bazarov’s nihilistic and realistic views. He dreams of bloody revolutionary changes and disputes with Kirsanov about the future of Russia: “Aristocracy, liberalism, progress, principles,” said Bazarov. “Just think what a lot of foreign . . .
and useless words! To a Russian they’re no good for anything! “, says he. Further along the novel Bazarov continues to play a role of a “revolutionary demon”. He is pretty charismatic, so such miserable people as Sitnikov and Kukushkina fall under his influence. Those two are represent a sort of “progressive thinkers” whose “progrogressism” comes to be reduced to absurd. They are ready to admire any new nihilistic ideas being completely unable to think of them critically and add any own reasoning to them. Bazarov openly contemns Sitnikov and flirts with Kushkina to allay his boredom.
What is really interesting for Bazarov are his disputes with Pavel Petrovitch Kirsanov, older brother of Nikolai Kirsanov They feel antipathy from the very first moment of their acquaintance. Pavel Kirsanov speaks of Bazarov’s nihilism as of an unfounded doctrine existing in vacuum. Bazarov’s manner of thinking is purely utilitarian: “We act by virtue of what we recognize as useful,” went on Bazarov. “At present the most useful thing is denial, so we deny”. Pavel strongly disagrees “But allow me,” began Nikolai Petrovich. “You deny everything, or to put it more precisely, you destroy everything .
. . But one must construct, too, you know. ”  But Bazarov remains sure, that to construct something it is first necessary to “Clean the ground”. Perhaps this dispute between Pavel Kirsanov and Bazarov puts forth the basic idea of the book: conflict of conservatism and revolutionary doctrine. In order to iron out the differences between Pavel Kirsanov and Bazarov Arcady tells Bazarov the story of Pavel’s life. Once Pavel was a luminous officer, but love to a woman, duchess R” ruined his life and left him completely drained. Pavel only retained his sophisticated taste, fair manners and Anglomania.
Although she is not present in the novel, duchess R” seems to be one of the characters because even after years she continues to determine Pavel’s actions. He asks for satisfaction from Bazarov, when he sees him kissing Fenichka, but the real reason is not Bazarov’s behavior, but that Fenichka somehow reminds Pavel duchess R”. While men in the story are symbols of social classes and positions, women represent something, what can be called “normal life”, whether it is duchess R” – a symbol of Russian magnificent nobility, Fenichka – a symbol of common sense, or Mme Odintsov.
Mme Odintsov is a very special character. On the one hand she is perfectly educated and progressive woman, on the other she does not in any way share Bazarov’s enthusiasm about social cataclysms. She is sure, that society is to be bettered by bettering of human, but not by reconstruction of it’s formation. She asks Bazarov a question which he is unable to directly answer: “And you suppose,” said Anna Sergeyevna, “that when society is reformed there will be no longer any stupid or wicked people?
”  Bazarov starts explaining that a proper society will make no difference, but inside he feels, that Odintsova is right. Love to a woman is so contrary to Bazarov’s views, that he is unable to accept it, putting cynicism on himself, and then leaving her house. He attempts to find some occupation for himself, flirts, fights at a duel and tries to speak about his ideas with peasants. The peasants are in fact those, who are to be enthusiastic about the revolution, at least as Bazarov thinks. So he is unhappily surprised to find out, that peasants do not want to understand complicated teaching and think of him as of a cheat.
Bazarov’s ideas collapse: he finds no support both with educated and common people, so he has to recognize, that revolution is actually unnecessary to anyone and that it is nothing more, than a fashionable game. Pavel Kirsanov is right: doctrines of Bazarov exist in vacuum. It is not clear whether Bazarov’s death was a suicide, but his behavior itself is suicidal, and he accepts the certainty of death calmly. The only thing he wants is to say farewell to Odintsova. At his deathbed he openly confessed, that all his prod ideas went down to the pan.
He continues to speak of himself as of a giant, but now the only task he puts for himself is to die with dignity. Six month after his death the two couples married: Nikolai Kirsanov to Fenichka and Arcady to Kate – Odintsova younger sister. The normal life continues even after Bazarov’s death, and Arcady, his former confederate, becomes a wealthy landowner, representing an antithesis to Bazarov’s views. Bazarov’s grave is almost forgotten, and only his parents sometimes come to shed tears over it. Although “Fathers and Sons” is a novel about pre-revolutionary Russia, it’s lesson is useful for all generations.
Sons always rise against their fathers, willing to change this world and create a totally new one for themselves. And Turgenev demonstrates how mental dissoluteness and spiritual weakness can destroy even the most sharp-minded person. The whole revolutionary fervor of Bazarov is destroyed by romantic love – the real motivation of the world. At the end of his life “the demon” feels lost and betrayed, while conservatism triumphs over his grave.
Works cited: Ivan Turgenev (1998) Fathers and Sons. Oxford: Oxford University Press
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