Fathers and Sons By Ivan Turgenev Summary and Analysis Chapter 5

Summary

The next morning, Bazarov arises before anyone else and goes out to catch some frogs for scientific experiments. He notices the broken down condition of the land, and talks freely with a couple of the peasants. Meanwhile, at the house, Nikolai feels compelled to explain in more detail his association with Fenichka. He tells Arkady about their peculiar relationship, and Arkady responds with an air of indifference saying: "Well, you know my philosophy of life, and I would hardly want to interfere with your life or your happiness." Arkady felt that "he was being magnanimous."

Arkady leaves his father abruptly in order to go and greet Fenichka and discovers that she has a child. In a joking sort of manner, he berates his father for not having told him about his new brother.

Pavel then asks Arkady about his friend Bazarov, and hears that he is a nihilist. Both Nikolai and Pavel are astonished by this term and try to figure out what it means. They know that it comes from the Latin word nihil, which means "nothing." Upon further discussion, Pavel maintains that a "nihilist" must be one who respects nothing.

Shortly after this, Fenichka arrives to serve cocoa, and we see that she is a rather pretty person who is uneasy in the presence of others. Soon, Bazarov returns from the swamps, all bespotted with mud from his excursion after frogs. He is greeted sarcastically by Pavel as "Mr. Nihilist."

Analysis

The beginning of the chapter informs us about Bazarov's character. He is a scientist and a rationalist who believes that the workings of human beings aren't much different from the workings of a frog. He approaches everything with as much scientific objectivity as possible and will ultimately maintain that human feelings and concepts should be viewed either as nonsense or as only so much weakness in the human body.

The conflict between Arkady and Nikolai increases when Nikolai tries to explain his relationship with Fenichka, and Arkady assumes the role of the more advanced person who could not be disturbed by any form of unorthodox social relationship. Nikolai does not know how to accept these foreign ideas and is thrown into confusion by them. We should note here that Russia of the nineteenth century was strictly divided into definite social classes. Fenichka was a member of the lower class who would not be accepted by the wealthy class to which Nikolai belonged. In the true sense of the word, he married a servant, who is socially inferior to him. The point is that the old aristocratic order is so firmly embedded in Nikolai's mind that he can't really justify his relationship with Fenichka as proper, and thus he is thrown into confusion when his son so calmly accepts the fact. We should also be aware that when Arkady is being so magnanimous, he is consciously aware that he is doing so.

We first hear the word nihilist in this chapter. Even though this word is common now, it was first coined by Turgenev to describe the type of person represented by Bazarov. When the subject first comes up, Bazarov is not present and the meaning of the term is explained by Arkady. A nihilist is a person who "examines everything from a critical point of view . . . a person who does not bow to any authorities; who doesn't accept any principle on faith, no matter how hallowed and how venerated the principle is." In contrast, Pavel is proud and arrogant that he is one of the representatives of the old century. He believes that without principles it is impossible to exist.

With the presentation of these ideas, Turgenev introduces one of his main themes, which is the conflict between the romantic past and the realistic present. Pavel stands for the old traditional and romantic past and he can never break away from this past to become a functional man of the present world. He insists on maintaining old views, even though he never bothers to examine the underlying truths of these beliefs. In contrast, Bazarov will reject all things of the past without examining to see if they might possess some values. In their own ways, both of them are mistaken.

Fenichka appears for the first time. She feels insecure because she is not officially married and is furthermore conscious of her inferior social position. Likewise, she is aware that Nikolai has not accepted her as an equal; thus she makes a point of remaining in the background.

Two small details humorously indicate the difference between Pavel and Bazarov. Bazarov notes that Pavel insists on using fancy English washbasins, while at the same time the doors to the house don't work. Pavel notes that Bazarov "doesn't believe in principles, but he believes in frogs."

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