Summary and Analysis Chapter 16



Arkady and Bazarov are received in the very stately home of Madame Odintsova. When they are alone, Bazarov remarks very curtly that Madame Odintsova is a duchess who is condescending to receive a future doctor or a doctor's son; he feels that she is simply indulging in a whim.

At tea, they learn that Madame Odintsova lives with her aunt and sister. The aunt is an elderly noblewoman tolerated mainly because of her high birth. The sister is a shy girl of eighteen. Madame Odintsova suggests to Bazarov that they argue about something. He calls to her attention a book of some drawings of Switzerland and explains that he is interested only in the geological aspect of the sketches. She wonders how he can get along in life without any artistic appreciation and asks if he doesn't want to understand people. He replies that "people are trees in a forest; no botanist would study every individual birch tree." Furthermore, the difference between a clever and a stupid person is the same as that between a healthy and sick person. If one could reform society, there would be no cause for sickness.

Odintsova asks Arkady what he thinks of these ideas, and Arkady obsequiously agrees with all that Bazarov has said. The aunt arrives and we do see that she is just tolerated by everyone. In fact, no one pays any attention to her except to adhere to the proper obeisances. Porfiry Platonovitch, a neighbor to Odintsova, arrives to play cards. While they are playing, Odintsova suggests that Arkady accompany her sister Katya to the piano. Arkady feels slighted because he senses that Madame Odintsova is dismissing him.

As Katya plays, he is struck by the beauty of Mozart's music despite his feelings of anti-romanticism and his advocation of nihilism. Arkady asks her to explain why she chose this particular piece of music, and Katya, naturally reticent, fails to respond to the question.

Odintsova suggests that Bazarov take her for a walk in order to teach her the Latin names for the various field plants. When he wants to know why she feels the need to know the Latin names, she replies that "one must have order in everything."

Bazarov and Arkady alone at night discuss the two sisters. Arkady praises Madame Odintsova, while Bazarov points out that the real marvel is not the Madame but Katya. That same night, Madame Odintsova is also thinking about her guests. She is intrigued by Bazarov and is fascinated by the sharpness of his opinions. Furthermore, she is confused by her own ambiguous feelings.

The next morning, Madame Odintsova and Bazarov go off to study botany while Arkady remains at home with Katya. When they return, Bavarov greets Arkady "as though they hadn't seen each other that day."


When Bazarov and Arkady arrive at Madame Odintsova's estate, she immediately notes the difference between the two men by promising music as entertainment to Arkady while observing that Bazarov would not be tempted by such entertainment. Again, we note that there is an essential difference between the two friends in that Arkady does care for many of the things which the "nihilists" and Bazarov depreciate.

Madame Odintsova openly wants Bazarov to tell her some of his ideas. She wonders how Bazarov can get along without an appreciation of art. He explains that he was looking at some pictures of Switzerland not for the romantic scenery but instead for the geological structure of the land. Madame Odintsova feels that one must have an artistic nature in order to understand people, but Bazarov feels that "individual personalities are not worth the trouble." "People are like trees in the forest; no botanist will stop to study every birch separately." What Bazarov fails to understand is that a botanist would indeed study the various types of trees (birch, elm, oak, etc.) and would also be interested in the differentiating characteristics among each separate birch tree, or oak tree, etc. To suggest that all people are the same as every birch tree is the same as an employment of a shoddy analogy and exhibits a gross misunderstanding of human nature.

Madame Odintsova makes the separation between the four people. She sends Arkady to sit with Katya and listen to the piano while she and Bazarov argue. He is struck by the piano music even though a true nihilist would not be. Thus, he is like his father and has inherited from Nikolai an appreciation of music. This mutual appreciation of music will bring Katya and Arkady together more and more until they become engaged.

One of the great contrasts between Madame Odintsova and Bazarov is her emphasis on order. She says that man must "have order in everything." Without order life would be too erratic and too boring. She even wants to know the Latin names for the various plants because these names indicate to her a degree of order. The "nihilist," however, is out to destroy all existing order and to replace it with a type of dominant anarchy. It is significant that Bazarov becomes attracted to a person who believes something diametrically opposed to his way of thinking and, furthermore, to someone whose way of life prevails over him while he remains at Nikolskoe. Later, he even admits that without the order found in Madame Odintsova's house the visit would not have been prolonged so long. The order, in other words, did contribute to the pleasure of their visit.

Madame Odintsova is also attracted to Bazarov because he is so different from her. She is troubled by her own feelings because she has lived for such a long time in an ordered world and here is a person who exudes a certain amount of ambiguity. For her, he represents a degree of disorder entering into her otherwise ordered existence. The reader should be aware of just how far she will allow her sense of order to be violated before she draws back.

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