Fathers and Sons | Study Guide

Ivan Turgenev

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Fathers and Sons | Chapter 10 | Summary



Two weeks pass as everyone in the house adjusts to Bazarov's and Arkady's presence. Arkady does nothing much, but Bazarov is busy with his microscope and his studies. Nikolai is rather afraid of Bazarov and his nihilistic ideas. Pavel grows to despise Bazarov, thinking of him as, "stuck-up, impudent, cynical, and vulgar." His servant Prokofitch agrees. However, the other servants, and Fenitchka, warm to his presence and feel at ease with him, for he is more in tune with them and they enjoy his easy manners.

Most mornings Bazarov and Arkady walk around the grounds discussing philosophical matters. On one such morning Nikolai overhears the young men discussing whether the older generation, Pavel and Nikolai himself, are "behind the times," with Bazarov asserting Nikolai "is a nice man ... but his day is done." Later when Arkady sees his father reading a book of poetry, he takes the book from his father's hand and replaces it with the philosophical text Bazarov recommended. Nikolai laments to Pavel, "I'm left behind and [Arkady] has gone forward." Pavel tries to cheer Nikolai up by suggesting Bazarov's conceit is responsible for leading Arkady astray, but Nikolai feels defeated. Not even an invitation from his "bigwig" relative, Matvy Ilyich Kolyazin, to join him in town cheers him, and both brothers decline the invitation.

At dinner that night Pavel readies himself to knock Bazarov off his pedestal once and for all. He tries to engage Bazarov in an argument about serfs and snobbery. Pavel tries to best Bazarov in the argument, but Bazarov callously tears down everything Pavel believes in: culture, poetry, art. He claims as a true nihilist he values nothing from society's past. He believes nihilists should "break things down" and "clear the site" to create space for new ideas. He further asserts men like Pavel, who value art and culture, provide no value to society. When the young men leave, Pavel and Nikolai lament the youths have now become their "successors."


In Chapter 10 the conflict between Bazarov and Pavel grows as their philosophical beliefs are pitted against each other in a long debate. Pavel represents tradition or the "old school" ways of society. Bazarov represents nihilism, which functions to undermine and destroy "old school" traditions. As Russian society shifts under new leadership and as cultural reforms, such as the emancipation of the serfs, take effect, debate brews as to how Russian society should be rebuilt. Men like Pavel believe society should cling to traditions and customs, whereas the younger generation wants something new. Bazarov represents the most extreme liberal view, that everything "old" must be destroyed to make way for new ideas. No institution is sacred: the social hierarchy, customs, religion, marriage, medicine, love—all must be destroyed. From their conversation, it's unclear whether Bazarov has specific ideas for rebuilding society in a positive way. He simply wants to destroy for destruction's sake: "We shall destroy because we are a force."

Because of the divide in philosophies, relationships also suffer division. Nikolai overhears Bazarov state old men like him are "behind the times" and no longer have anything to offer society. Because Bazarov previously mocked Nikolai's romantic notions, Arkady seeks to modernize his father by replacing his poetry book with a philosophy text Nikolai doesn't understand. Nikolai recognizes Bazarov's approval has become more important to Arkady than his own, and he wonders how their father-son relationship will repair.

The chapter also highlights the conflict between generations regarding the changing world. Whereas Nikolai and Arkady were once close, they now have little in common as Arkady chooses to align with Bazarov's radical political ideologies, leaving behind the love of poetry, art, and nature he shared with his father. Nikolai feels rejected, "retired," and thus useless. Pavel feels little but anger at Bazarov's dismissiveness and has no desire to be or do anything other than continue as he has been. However, he is not politically or socially reactionary, as his acceptance of Fenitchka indicates. He accepts new ideas but not destruction for the sake of destruction.

Meanwhile Bazarov's offensive comments about people with different philosophical views continue as he further asserts aristocratic men like Pavel—and his brother—offer nothing valuable to society. Although Bazarov and Pavel argue merely with words now, tension grows, foreshadowing later developments as the argument becomes physical.

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