Fathers and Sons | Study Guide

Ivan Turgenev

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Course Hero. "Fathers and Sons Study Guide." February 6, 2018. Accessed January 19, 2019. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fathers-and-Sons/.


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Fathers and Sons | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Coming Home

Fathers and Sons tells the story of the generational gap between two young scholars and their fathers in mid-19th-century Russia. Landowner Nikolai Kirsanov waits anxiously for his son, Arkady, to return home to Maryino, the family estate, after graduating from university. Arkady arrives, having brought his idealistic friend, Bazarov, a medical student, with him. Bazarov identifies as a nihilist, meaning he believes in nothing and therefore honors no authority, tradition, or emotion. Arkady has become an eager disciple of Bazarov's beliefs. Almost immediately Bazarov conflicts with Pavel, Arkady's traditional, genteel uncle. Nikolai notices the changes in his son and worries he will no longer be able to connect with Arkady, who has lost his previous appreciation for nature and art. Nikolai does, however, appreciate Arkady's progressive social views that allow him to welcome Nikolai's young lover and former housemaid, Fenitchka, and their infant son, Mitya, into the family.

Nihilists in Love

A few weeks into their visit Arkady and Bazarov leave for the city and contrive to get an invitation to the governor's ball, given in honor of Arkady's well-connected uncle. There they meet, among others, the wealthy widow Madame Odintsov. The beautiful, intelligent woman immediately enraptures Arkady, and he cannot stop thinking about her. Like a child he feels giddy and awkward in her presence. She, however, appears taken with the more charismatic Bazarov. When she invites the young men to visit her estate, they waste no time and depart the next day.

Initially Arkady tries to engage Madame Odintsov in stimulating conversation, but her attention focuses on Bazarov's interests in science and controversial ideology. As Bazarov and Madame Odintsov grow closer, Arkady ends up spending most of his time with Madame Odintsov's younger sister, Katya. Some time passes, and while Arkady forms a strong friendship with Katya, he notices Bazarov growing more irritable. One afternoon one of Bazarov's parents' servants arrives to question when Bazarov will return home for a promised visit that has long been postponed. The elder Bazarovs live only a few miles from Nikolskoe, Madame Odintsov's estate, and he agrees to depart in a few days. That evening, when he tells Madame Odintsov of his plan to leave, she tries to stop him. Bazarov grows increasingly irritated and suddenly leaves the room. The next day Madame Odintsov questions Bazarov's unexpected behavior, and he admits to being in love with her. He rushes to kiss her, but she pulls away. Mortified Bazarov rushes from the room.

At the Bazarovs

The next morning Bazarov announces his plans to leave. Arkady agrees to go with him, and they travel to Bazarov's parents' house. Bazarov's parents haven't seen him in three years, and his mother collapses with emotion. She prepares an elaborate meal and spends all her time staring, teary-eyed, at her long-lost son. Heartbroken over his rejected love and angry with himself, Bazarov barely interacts with his parents, shutting himself in the study for three days before announcing he must leave again. His devastated parents try to understand.

Back to Maryino

Bazarov and Arkady travel toward Maryino but stop at Nikolskoe along the way, where Madame Odintsov's cool reception further humiliates Bazarov. The young men stay only a few hours before continuing on to Maryino. A few days later at home Arkady feels overcome with longing for Katya, with whom he realizes he has fallen in love. In a romantic impulse he leaves at night and urges on the team of horses through the afternoon to reunite with her. Both she and Madame Odintsov greet the "runaway" warmly.

Meanwhile Bazarov struggles to come to terms with his heartbreak. He continues his scientific research at Maryino and continues to annoy conservative and tradition-bound Pavel with nihilistic beliefs. More comfortable with servants than masters, Bazarov befriends Fenitchka, still unsure of herself and her position, and one afternoon forcefully tries to kiss her in the garden. Pavel witnesses the act and promptly challenges Bazarov to a duel. They meet the next morning with pistols, a witness, and the rule each are allowed two shots. Pavel's first shot misses, but Bazarov's lands as he shoots Pavel in the thigh. Pavel collapses, and Bazarov rushes to treat the wound. Because Bazarov has acted like a gentleman during the duel, Pavel is willing to forgive his behavior and beliefs.

Moving On

Bazarov returns to his parents' home, much to their delight. Again Bazarov throws himself into his research. His father, an ex-army doctor, has grown too feeble to see local patients, so Bazarov continues his father's work. One day while performing an autopsy on a typhus-ridden body, Bazarov nicks himself and contracts the deadly sickness. He sends a letter to Madame Odintsov informing her of his impending death. She rushes to Bazarov's bedside. The German doctor who accompanies her can do nothing for the dying man. Bazarov confesses, once again, his love for her, which she cannot reciprocate. She does, however, offer Bazarov comfort as he slips into unconsciousness. He dies the next morning.

As of six months later, Madame Odintsov has married for convenience an ambitious lawyer with political ambitions. Newlywed couples Arkady and Katya, and Nikolai and Fenitchka, are living at Maryino, which Arkady is managing. The four gather to say goodbye to Pavel, who has emerged from his self-imposed rural exile to move to Moscow and eventually relocate to Germany. They raise their glasses in a toast to his success and to Bazarov's memory.

Fathers and Sons Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Visiting Arkady's home, Bazarov offends his friend's family.

Rising Action

2 Influenced by nihilism, Arkady has grown away from Nikolai.

3 Bazarov and Arkady go to the city and socialize.

4 At the governor's ball they meet Madame Odintsov.

5 Arkady and Bazarov compete for Madame Odintsov's affection.

6 Bazarov is devastated when Madame Odintsov rejects him.

7 Arkady realizes he loves Katya and rides to be with her.

8 At the Kirsanovs' Bazarov tries to kiss Fenitchka.


9 Pavel and Bazarov duel over Bazarov's behavior.

Falling Action

10 Bazarov takes care of Pavel, whom he has wounded.

11 Bazarov returns to his parents' home and dies of typhus.


12 Katya and Arkady marry, as do Nikolai and Fenitchka.

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