Fathers and Sons | Study Guide

Ivan Turgenev

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Fathers and Sons | Chapter 24 | Summary

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Summary

Two hours later Pavel knocks at Bazarov's door to apologize for interrupting his "scientific pursuits." He asks Bazarov his beliefs about duels, which Bazarov dismisses as "absurd," but Pavel announces, "I have made up my mind to fight you." Bazarov accepts the challenge, and they agree to a duel with pistols—Bazarov will borrow one from Pavel—and have Piotr stand as witness. They also agree to write letters corroborating the duel so the victor cannot be slapped with murder charges. The rest of the day passes without note, but strange dreams plague Bazarov's sleep.

The next morning Bazarov rises early and walks to the place designated for the duel. Bazarov maintains an appearance of nonchalance, but Pavel trembles with nerves. They mark out their paces and raise their pistols. Pavel fires, and the bullet whizzes past Bazarov's head. He returns fire, striking Pavel in the leg. Pavel collapses, and Bazarov rushes over to treat his wound. Pavel reminds Bazarov they decided each may shoot twice, but Bazarov dismisses him. Terrified Piotr fetches Nikolai. Pavel assures Nikolai he forced Bazarov to fight. Bazarov shouldn't be blamed.

Back home Fenitchka faints when she first hears news of the duel and spends the rest of the day pointedly avoiding Bazarov. Bazarov takes care of Pavel, whose opinion of Bazarov seems fully changed. He stares almost longingly at Fenitchka, and when delirium sets in, comments to Nikolai how similar Fenitchka looks to the princess he once loved.

The next day Bazarov decides to return to his parents' home and says goodbye. Shortly after Pavel confronts Fenitchka about what he saw in the bushes. She maintains she loves only Nikolai and shouldn't be blamed for Bazarov's actions. Pavel bursts into tears and begs Fenitchka to "love him, love my brother! Don't give him up for any one in the world!" Just then Nikolai enters the room. Fenitchka flings herself into his arms and weeps as Pavel pleads with Nikolai to marry Fenitchka and build a happy family with baby Mitya. Nikolai feels overwhelmed by his brother's acceptance of Fenitchka and promises to marry her straight away.

Analysis

The duel pushes Bazarov as far from his nihilistic beliefs as possible. The very idea of a duel, fighting another man on the basis of honor or principle, is the polar opposite to the nihilistic beliefs that romance, morals, principles, and authority have no value. Like Madame Odintsov, who engaged with Bazarov out of boredom, Bazarov claims to engage with Pavel for the same reason. The duel, however, does offer him an outlet for the building emotion he has suppressed since Madame Odintsov's rejection. He hoped for release during a fight with Arkady or sex with Fenitchka, both of which were thwarted. Although Bazarov engages in the highly romantic act of a duel, he refuses to participate in the letter writing, although he does consider writing a letter to his parents. This refusal further highlights Bazarov's selfishness. Knowing how passionately his parents love him, he cannot even offer words of comfort as his possible death approaches.

The duel, which serves as the novel's climax, becomes a turning point for Pavel's character. He realizes for the first time the man he has spent the entire novel despising could have value. Bazarov tends to Pavel's wounds and treats him respectfully when the rules of the duel do not demand such treatment. Pavel's changing view of Bazarov quietly delivers the message to 19th-century readers that despite polarized political views, opponents still have value and can offer something useful to the situation at hand. No one should be dismissed simply because of their views.

Pavel's convalescence provides further insight into his love for Fenitchka, which can no longer be denied, if only for her resemblance to Princess R—. He confronts Fenitchka about the kiss and receives her adamant response she loves no one but Nikolai. At the end of the chapter, Pavel begs Nikolai to marry Fenitchka. On the surface it appears Pavel wants to welcome Fenitchka formally into the family because his near-death experience has changed his traditional worldview. It might also be construed that, upon hearing of Fenitchka's love for Nikolai, Pavel realizes he has no chance with her. If he has spent the last years secretly in love with Fenitchka, that is why he has visited her in secret, felt compelled to fight Bazarov after the kiss, and why, after Nikolai agrees to marry Fenitchka, he lies on the bed like "a dead man."

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