Fathers and Sons | Study Guide

Ivan Turgenev

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Course Hero. "Fathers and Sons Study Guide." February 6, 2018. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fathers-and-Sons/.


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Fathers and Sons | Chapter 1 | Summary



Landowner Nikolai Petrovitch Kirsanov, "wearing a dusty overcoat and checked trousers," waits eagerly at the gate for his son, Arkady Nikolayevitch, to return home, having just graduated from university. Kirsanov's servant Piotr, "a man of the new improved generation," is with him.

The narrator describes Nikolai's childhood. Nikolai's father, a barely literate Russian general, expected both his sons—Pavel and Nikolai—to follow him into the army, but Nikolai was injured and sent to university instead. Pavel, however, joined a military regiment, and the brothers shared a flat while both lived in Petersburg. After Nikolai's parents died, not long after he graduated from university in 1835, he married the "attractive ... well-educated" Masha. They had one child, Arkady, before Masha died 10 years later in 1847. After her death Nikolai dedicated his life and love to Arkady. The narration returns to the present as Nikolai excitedly hears Arkady's carriage approaching.


Chapter 1 opens with the image of a father eagerly awaiting his son's return from university. On the basis of Nikolai's thoughts, the reader may expect a close bond between father and son. When Arkady returns, however, the distance in the relationship is apparent. Nikolai's backstory hints at the same distance that formed between him and his own father as the son tends to go his own way. The fathers in the novel struggle to stay connected to the sons they love. In this way Fathers and Sons discusses the generational gap families throughout the ages often face.

Nikolai's backstory provides information about him and his upbringing, which seems to be an attempt to imitate aristocratic practices of the time, but in Nikolai's case, is a less expensive alternative. The description of his mother as "a domineering military lady" recalls Turgenev's own mother.

Piotr's presence with Nikolai is significant because it immediately hints at Russia's social change at the time the novel was written. Formerly a serf Piotr works as a servant now, and the narrator points out how everything about Piotr's appearance shows him as "a man of the new, improved generation." The language shows verbal irony, as his Western-style clothing is a superficial contrivance, and improvement is more than questionable.

Turgenev's narrative style is introduced as well. In addition to traditional third-person narration, the narrator becomes an active storyteller as he begins to describe Nikolai's background: "We will introduce him to the reader while he sits, with his feet tucked in, looking thoughtfully around." The narrator occasionally uses first person when moving outside the story.

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