Fathers and Sons | Study Guide

Ivan Turgenev

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Fathers and Sons | Chapter 21 | Summary



The next morning Vassily privately corners Arkady to question what he truly thinks of Bazarov. Arkady's response the highly intelligent Bazarov certainly has "a great future before him" brings tears to Vassily's eyes. "You have made me perfectly happy," he tells Arkady. After lunch as Bazarov and Arkady relax in the barn, Bazarov admits to feeling depressed, feeling "nothing but weariness and anger." Arkady doesn't understand Bazarov's cynical view on life and even goes so far as to disagree with him. Bazarov calls Arkady a "soft-hearted, mawkish creature" too timid to "hold his own beside me." A feeling of hostility hovers around the men as they argue about principles and the meaning of life, with neither satisfied in the end. Arkady attempts to lighten the mood by noting the beauty of a falling maple leaf. Bazarov further insults Arkady by saying his "imbecile" uncle Pavel would be proud of his "fine talk." Arkady demands an apology, but Bazarov springs up to fight him instead. At that moment Vassily enters the barn to announce dinner and the presence of a dinner guest, Father Alexei, the village priest, a pleasant enough man who plays cards and doesn't preach at the young men. Although anticlerical Bazarov accepts the priest's presence.

The evening passes pleasantly enough, with Arina once again unable to tear her gaze from her son, looking at him with "not only devotion and tenderness ... [but] also sorrow, mingled with awe and curiosity."

The next day Bazarov tells Arkady he will be leaving his parents' home imminently. Arkady tries convincing him to stay longer for his mother's sake, but Bazarov's mind is made up. Still he doesn't tell his parents until late in the evening, his announcement shocking and saddening them. They cannot look him in the eye, and Arina weeps until Bazarov's carriage disappears the next day.


Bazarov's unguarded conversation with Arkady in the barn reveals more of his character. Bazarov was superstitious as a child, believing the ash tree in his yard held "talismanic powers." Being around his perpetually optimistic, happy parents leaves Bazarov feeling more depressed in his own life. He seems to sense clinging to his nihilistic beliefs has robbed him of a more satisfying life, although he's not ready to abandon his principles. Instead he lashes out angrily as he processes these new emotions. He ignores his devoted, loving parents and pushes Arkady further away.

This chapter proves a turning point for Arkady and Bazarov's friendship. Bazarov's callous insults about Arkady's gentle nature and family push Arkady over the edge. In previous chapters he has been able to ignore Bazarov's insults, but now he is pushed too far. He demands an apology, which Bazarov refuses to give. That Bazarov would rather come to blows shows how far he has slipped from his nihilistic principles. He has allowed himself to become overwhelmed with emotion that threatens to explode. He feels he has destroyed himself by falling in love with Madame Odintsov and has no pride left in him. As he did with Madame Odintsov, Bazarov runs from the emotions he feels when with his parents, and thus abruptly decides to leave. Again he selfishly ignores their sorrow as he focuses only on himself.

His parents' grief is demonstrated in their closeness at the end of the chapter as they console each other. Arina says to her husband, a son is "like the falcon that flies home and flies away at his pleasure; while you and I are like funguses in the hollow of a tree, we sit side by side, and don't move from our place. Only I am left you unchanged for ever, as you for me."

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