Essay: Fathers and Sons (1862 novel)

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  • Published on: January 23, 2019
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  • Fathers and Sons (1862 novel)
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As the story unfolded, all forms of the ideologies were presented. Younger generations conflicted with the older generations as ideologies between the two are different. Differing views on political and social classes also collided. The issues that were presented in the novel were also likely to be applicable to the rest of Europe. I do think Turgenev used the novel to bring up these topics to push an agenda in the 19th century society.
The characters all have their own interesting ideology. In the novel we meet Arkady Nikolaevich who is a nihilist, but his ideology only seems to be so encouraged because of his mentor and friend, Evgeny Vasilevich Bazarov. Throughtout the novel Arkady’s character develops and progresses. We see him move from being a nihilist that reflects what his friend Bazarov is. It is the opposite of what he was raised, his father being a romantic and conservative, as his uncle Pavel who served in the military also a conservative. When Arkady and Bazarov go to visit Anna and Katya, Arkady listens to songs played on the piano by Katya, which would be against nihilist beliefs of tearing down anything and everything. We also see his romanticism develop as well, he becomes affectionate and falls in love with Katya. At the end of the book, after his marriage and moving with Katya to his father’s farm, we learn he has turned the farm around and has become more liberal. He adopted new progressive ideas and had the farm flowing smoothly.

Bazarov is a true nihilist, he doesn’t believe in authority, nor does he believe in showing affection, and has the true nihilist belief that everything must be torn down and everything must be condemned. Nothing can be believed and not the word of anyone should be believed except for scientific fact of what can be proven.

After Arkady graduates they both arrive at Arkady’s home. We meet Arkady’s father, Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov and uncle Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov, both are conservatives in the aristocratic class. Nikolai being romantic as well. I also think Pavel could also be a bit of a materialist, he seems to always wear fragrances and is always dressed nicely. He and Nikolai have an argument after some time with Bazarov. Pavel cannot bring himself to accept this nihilism and begins to despise Bazarov. The argument breaks out as Pavel can’t keep quiet any longer. Arkady hears the argument and steps in to side with Bazarov, Bazarov being the one arguing more fiercely in the belief of the nihilist view. During the argument Pavel says, “You’re condemning everything or, to be more precise, you’re pulling everything down, but surely you’ve got to build something as well.” (50) Bazarov replies with “That’ s not for us to do. First we’ve got to clear the ground.” (50) Arkady buts in “The contemporary state of the peasantry demands this, we must fulfil these needs, we don’t have the right to give in to satisfying our personal egoism.” (50) The book says that Bazarov is “displeased” of what Arkady added, being that his addition “smacked of philosophizing” which he relates to romanticism. (50) Here I think is when we see that Arkady isn’t truly involved in being a nihilist, only trying to follow his friend and mentor. A short time after the argument had taken place, Nikolai is in the garden. He is thinking to himself and reflecting, recalling how his brother Pavel had said their ideology was in the right. He seems to be having trouble with the nihilist ideology and how someone could “reject poetry” and “have no sympathy for art and nature.”(57)

Sometime after the argument Arkady and Bazarov head into town to take up on the invitation of Arkady’s relative to visit. There they meet Viktor Somich Sitnikov who we learn is a liberal. They also meet Avdotya Nikitishna Kukshina is a feminist that lives in a nearby home near where they’re staying in the town. Lengthy conversation takes place in the home of Kukshina. Kukshina is very talkative, her stance on women’s rights and feminism is shown. During a conversation Sitnikov says “Are you standing up for all these silly women?” (70)

Kukshina responds “Not for silly women, no, but for the rights of women, which I’ve vowed to defend to the last drop of my blood.” (70)

After this conversation, they head to the governor’s ball. Where they meet Anna Sergeevna Odintsova. During the ball Arkady is interested in her, but it seems she looks down on him. Bazarov doesn’t join in the conversation and sits by himself. They are invited to her house, so they join her. We learn that Anna Sergeevna has been married before but is widowed. She married for money and was left with everything she could ever need or want. I think Anna is our biggest representation of materialism. She does indeed have anything and everything she could want. She keeps order about how things are ran, otherwise she would become bored. She is also another example of liberalism, she shares in the ideas of progressives.

In the novel we see many arguments that can tell us the tensions that did exist. Political tensions seen when Bazarov has the argument with Pavel. Two very differing viewpoints between younger and older generations. The conversation held with Kukshina about women’s rights is a social issue. She declared that she would stand up for women’s rights.

We have an insight to an intellectual tension, when Bazarov and Anna have a conversation about his ideology, she is questioning his views of nihilism and how different and interesting it is compared to her order at her home. 

Turgenev does appear to be advancing an agenda of sorts with the novel and the characters. The novel seems to be much more than just a simple story. Is he pushing for nihilism? Is he pushing for feminism and women’s rights? Is he pushing for progressing society out of the feudal system? I think he is trying to make a statement to society to move away from the traditional way things have been done. Move away from the conservatism, to embrace new ideology. The nihilist would come in and tear down anything and everything, they would do nothing more. Then the feminism and liberalism would come in with progressive and new ideas on society to build it up in a new way. Like we see in the end of the book, Arkady has turned his father’s farm around, by finally accepting the liberal ideology and as well as becoming a romantic, marrying showing his emotions. He abandons the nihilist views and takes up the different ideology. In a show of how society can change.

I don’t think the issues raised in the book are only specific to 19th century Russian Empire, I think they are applicable to the rest of Europe. At this time period, things are changing in society not only in Russia. Turgenev was not only trying to advance an agenda of change in Russia, but also to the rest of Europe. Many of the comparisons can be made to other societies in Europe.

As the forms of ideologies are presented, we see how the characters evolve with their views. Different discussions and arguments take place that involve conflicting views and differing opinions on social structure, intellectual ideas, and political viewpoints. With all of this I believe Turgenev was advancing an agenda upon society, as probably anyone who read the novel at the time could relate with characters in the novel and identify with certain thoughts and ideas, young vs old, traditional vs progressive ways of thinking. This could also be true for the rest of the European societies as well, not just in Russia.

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