Nikolai is the romantic father of Arkady, who has tried his best to keep up with modern ideas in an effort to remain close to his son. But when Arkady returns home bringing with him a nihilist with whom he apparently agrees, Nikolai feels that there is a great gulf now between the two generations.
Nikolai has very little of the practical in his nature. It is very difficult for him to tend to the business of running the farm. To keep abreast of the most recent ideas, he has freed all of his serfs and is trying to run the estate on a rental basis, but he cannot make it work. Slowly the farm is deteriorating.
While the farm sinks into neglect, Nikolai is often seen dreaming of his past life and remembering events of long ago. He also spends much time reading the romantic Pushkin and playing music on the cello. His greatness lies in his generous and expansive nature and his appreciation for beauty, but his flaw is that he lives too much in an impractical dream world. Unlike Pavel, he does not judge the younger generation too harshly, and by his patient waiting, is finally rewarded by being reunited with his son.