Fathers and Sons By Ivan Turgenev Summary and Analysis Chapter 10

Summary

After two weeks, everyone except Pavel grew used to the two young men. Pavel, however, came to hate Bazarov "with all the strength of his soul." He regarded Bazarov as arrogant, insolent, and cynical, and suspected that "he all but had contempt for him." The only other person who did not like Bazarov was old Prokofitch who, as a servant, was "just as much an aristocrat as was Pavel."

Arkady and Bazarov often went on long walks and had arguments which Arkady usually lost, even though Bazarov said very little. One day, as they were returning from a walk, Nikolai overheard the two talking when Bazarov was saying that Nikolai is a ,'very good fellow ... but he's on the retired list, his song is sung." Bazarov mentions that Nikolai even reads the poet Pushkin.

Nikolai is so upset by this overheard conversation that he reports it to his brother Pavel. Actually, Nikolai has read constantly in an attempt to keep up with the new generation, and is somewhat disappointed that he is considered so out of date. Furthermore, one day when he was reading a Pushkin poem, his son Arkady came up and gently replaced the book with one by a German entitled Stoff und Kraft. Nikolai still remembers his German well enough to read it, but he cannot see any value in this book. Pavel decides that they must have a discussion with Bazarov.

That same day, Pavel had his opportunity to discuss things with Bazarov when the young man referred to a neighbor as a rotter and a petty aristocrat. Pavel objects to both and defends the rights of the aristocrat. Ultimately, after some discussion, Bazarov asks Pavel what benefit he is to mankind, but Pavel merely defends the concept of the aristocrat as a part of the heritage of the world.

After Bazarov tears down all the things that Pavel believes in such as art, poetry, culture, etc., Pavel wonders if nihilism means only to tear down. He asks if "it is necessary to build up." Bazarov explains that it is not their business to build up, but only to "clear the site." Bazarov further explains that the "nihilist" respects no authority and no tradition: he rejects all talk of values as being mere platitudes, and reviles everything.

Pavel wonders how they can tear down when they don't even know why they are destroying. Bazarov explains, "We break things down because we are a force," and a force does not have to "render any account." There is nothing that Bazarov respects; he finds faults with everything. Throughout the discussion, Arkady enthusiastically agrees with his friend. Bazarov ends the discussion by saying that Pavel needs time to think over these things and examine if anything has any value; in the meantime he will continue to dissect frogs.

After they leave, Nikolai reminds his brother that when they were young they thought that their parents were old fashioned, but then admits that he is confident that their values are better than those of the young nihilist.

Analysis

In Chapter 10, Turgenev gives us another slant on the character of Bazarov. Note that for all his sarcasm and condescending manner he is basically well liked by all the servants except Prokofitch, who is in his own way "as much an aristocrat as Pavel." Turgenev does not want to present a completely negative picture of Bazarov, but wants the reader to see him as a vividly real person. In terms of literary development, this ability to make his characters into real vivid personalities is one of Turgenev's main contributions to the rise of the realistic novel.

In contrast to many of the realistic techniques, Turgenev also uses a number of devices that smack of the romantic. For example, Nikolai just happens to be situated in a place where he overhears a conversation between Bazarov and Arkady . This technique of an accidentally overheard conversation is artificial and associated with romanticism. From it, Nikolai learns that he is now considered to be "on the retired list." For some fathers, this would be reason enough for complete alienation from the son. The fact that it does not have that effect here allows Arkady and Nikolai ultimately to join together by the end of the novel.

Bazarov had ridiculed Arkady's father for reading Pushkin, so the next time Arkady sees his father reading Pushkin, he replaces it with Buchner's Stoff und Kraft. (The book is actually titled Kraft und Stoff [Force and Matter] and concerns a materialist view of the world.) The fact that Arkady gives his father this book indicates how much he is still under the control of Bazarov.

Nikolai did try to read the book, and decides that either the contents are rubbish or he is just a stupid man. Since we have seen that Nikolai is cultured (he speaks several languages in addition to knowing classical literature and music), the reader might be led to believe his view that the book is so much trash. Pavel's reaction is that Bazarov is being a presumptuous egotist for suggesting this book. This is highly ironic coming from a man who is himself extremely egotistical.

In this chapter, we hear more about the concept of "nihilism." Nikolai and Pavel try to argue that any philosophical concept must have a positive end, but Bazarov insists that the "nihilist" is only interested in "clearing the site" by destroying the corruption which presently exists. The older generation cannot understand a concept that stands on totally negative principles. Until all things can be destroyed, the nihilist must revile and undermine all things. They act not for the sake of any values, but merely because they are a, force. It does not even matter if they understand why they destroy as long as they do destroy. Consequently, there is nothing that the nihilist will respect. The Russian land, country, family, government, church are all equally ridiculous and must be destroyed. What is not brought out in the novel, but is embedded in the concept of "nihilism," is the fact that if "nihilism" were carried to its extreme, it would mean finally that after everything is destroyed, man then must destroy himself No nihilist can ever build anything because a subsequent adherent of "nihilism" would come along and feel the need to destroy that.

As the discussion between Pavel and Bazarov becomes very heated, Nikolai tries to interpose to prevent a serious disagreement. But there is not much danger of this happening because Bazarov doesn't care enough to get too upset, and Pavel, at this point, feels it would be beneath his aristocratic dignity to become angry with an inferior person. Yet, these types of conflicts prepare us for the approaching duel scene between Bazarov and Pavel.

This chapter also reinforces a wider ranging theme in the novel — the natural antagonism that exists between succeeding generations, between Fathers and Sons of all periods of history. Nikolai tries to justify his son's different views by reminding Pavel that when they were children, they too thought their parents old fashioned. Basically, Turgenev is suggesting that any two different generations will always fail to understand each other. Pavel, however, only feels that in this particular case the older generation is decidedly the one with truth on its side.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

How does Bazarov die?




Quiz