Turgenev's Fathers and Sons is held as a beacon of defining nihilism in 19th Century Russia. However, despite the novel's political and social backdrop, the primary focus of the text is on the subtlety of an unhappy love story. This is most clearly demonstrated by the contrast of romantic pairs vis-à-vis the predominant characters. Bazarov and Odintsova are contrasted with Arkady and Katya. This comparison extends further to the secondary characters of Pavel and his failed romance, and Arkady's father, Nikolai, and his relationship with Thenichka. Interestingly, Turgenev begins his work by highlighting the ideological bond between Bazarov and Arkady; thus is able to clearly indicate their eventual divergence as a by-product of their romantic endeavors. Moreover, their relationship parallels that of Pavel and Nikolai, who, like Bazarov and Arkady, are linked by friendship (and in their case also blood), but come to very different romantic ends. Turgenev also cross-links these characters, demonstrating the similarities between Bazarov and Pavel, despite their outward ideological differences, and between Arkady and his father. As such, two very different generations are unified with one transcending thematic force. Furthermore, Turgenev's elaborate structure of using all his characters as foils of each other reinforces the fact that the entire novel is structured as an examination of one character Bazarov, whose psychological unfolding is the focal point around which all the other players' actions and relationships can be understood.
Turgenev's novel outwardly depicts Bazarov as an early nihilistic revolutionary type belonging to the raznochintsy. However, based on the manner in which Turgenev focuses his story, Bazarov is soon exposed to the reader as a man who is so set on his own convictions that he self-creates his persona. Turgenev's work stresses how Bazarov's personal life is far from revolutionary, lacking in the excitement of interpersonal relationships. This is demonstrated by his inability to allow himself to become engaged in the dramas of life, distancing himself by deeming them as mundane and trivial. Due to his convictions, he purposely cuts himself off from nature and emotion in order to forge his own image. The problem with Bazarov is that he can do nothing but act as a revolutionary, and the reader soon becomes aware that he has no control over his personality. Therefore, when his ideas are challenged, he loses his sense of self, and in the text it can be detected that part of Bazarov envies Arkady for being able to display more humanity. Regardless, he is unwilling to let go of his ideas and is controlled by the personality that he has created. He finds himself caught in the dilemma of creating something new, such as his desire to be the model of the new and modern scientific man, and tearing down something old, such as the social constructs and emotions that he eventually finds himself facing. One example of this is shown when he accepts Pavel's challenge to a duel, a practice that he rationally should reject, but proceeds out of social norms.
The text conveys numerous indications of Bazarov's struggle with his dualistic nature. While he continually tries to reject established convention, he is confronted with his own humanity when he falls in love with Odintsov. He cannot help but perceive his love as a weakness, as his ideas innately prevent him from believing in romantic love. Here the duality is portrayed by his contempt for Pavel's romanticism despite his similar behaviour in his relationship with Odintsova, and, upon falling in love, he begins to develop insecurities over his disdain for romantic sentimentality. His love highlights the inconsistencies of his ideas and how they do not account for his emotional being. As a result, in chapter 27 he attempts to break through the barriers that his nature has constructed. When he declares his love to Odintsova, Bazarov leans against the...
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