Fathers and Sons | Study Guide

Ivan Turgenev

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Fathers and Sons | Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

Driving toward Maryino Nikolai and Arkady catch up on family news, with Arkady eager to "turn the conversation from the emotional into a commonplace channel." Nikolai admits being so excited for Arkady's return he waited at the station for five hours and continues to fret about how they will properly house Bazarov, despite having plenty of space in the house. More seriously, however, Nikolai worries particularly how he will be judged for taking a mistress, Fenitchka, who has moved in with him. Arkady isn't surprised by his father's admission and assures him Bazarov won't mind either. Nikolai feels surprise at his son's new liberal views.

Nikolai tells of the difficulty he has had on the land since installing his serfs as rent-paying tenants who refuse to pay their rent and often ruin the farming tools. As father and son drive through the farmland, Arkady begins to feel sentimental but stops himself, claiming, "[it] makes no difference where a man is born," a statement that slightly offends Nikolai. As he talks with his father, Arkady feels a mixture of "condescending tenderness ... mixed with a sense of secret superiority." As they continue to drive, Arkady feels struck by the obvious poverty of the freed serfs (now farmers) and vows, "it can't go on like this, reforms are absolutely necessary."

As they near Maryino, Nikolai's estate, which the peasants have nicknamed "Poverty Farm," Bazarov offers Arkady a cheap cigar with a stench so strong Nikolai must turn away as Arkady begins to smoke it.

Analysis

Despite Nikolai's statement to the contrary, much has changed at Maryino in the time Arkady has been away. Although the serfs haven't yet been emancipated officially, progressive landowners like Nikolai have installed them as rent-paying laborers rather than landless agricultural workers toiling without payment. Nikolai hoped the serfs would use their emancipation as an opportunity for upward mobility—working hard to become part of the middle class—but the former serfs are still uneducated and embittered. Their crops do poorly, and they make too little money to pay their rent.

Freeing the serfs is one of the radical changes in this "new Russia," and opinions on the matter were often divided by generation. Young Russians like Arkady believed "these reforms are absolutely necessary," while some middle-aged men, like Nikolai, try to make the best of what exists. Still others, like Nikolai's brother Pavel, who will be introduced later, believe tradition is more important than progress and see no good coming of such social reform.

Nikolai sheepishly informs Arkady Fenitchka, his housemaid, has moved in with him. He doesn't say it outright, and can barely say her name aloud, but Fenitchka has become Nikolai's lover. A man of Nikolai's standing taking a peasant lover as an acceptable mistress, installed in his home as a family member and not a servant, would be a shameful secret in "old Russia," but liberal Arkady congratulates his father on finding love. While this accepting aspect of Arkady's new worldview pleases Nikolai, he feels sadness over Arkady's dismissal of emotions. Nikolai was looking forward to bringing Arkady home and surrounding him in nostalgia, but Arkady no longer has time for that. He expresses no real joy in coming home, telling his father it "makes no difference where a man is born." When Nikolai tries to turn the conversation to "emotional" and "commonplace" topics that might reestablish their bond, Arkady dismisses him. Arkady is enjoying the fine spring weather, and Nikolai quotes lines from Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, about the sorrows of love in springtime, whereupon Bazarov cuts him off to ask for a match, leaving Nikolai to worry about how he and his son will reconnect.

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