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Fathers and Sons | Symbols



Music symbolizes romanticism in Fathers and Sons, appearing in two key scenes. The first is the scene in which Bazarov overhears Nikolai playing the cello and bursts into laughter at what he perceives as the absurdity of a middle-aged man playing an instrument he loves on a farm and to no audience. To Bazarov the music wastes Nikolai's time and offers nothing valuable to society. Nikolai, of course, sees playing music as a joy. Arkady says nothing to defend or confront either man, for he is placed between his father and "mentor." But Bazarov has overstepped here, for "much as he revered his master, this time Arkady did not even smile" at Bazarov's comments. Music is not a laughing matter for Arkady, foreshadowing its function as a symbol of his romantic nature.

Music returns when Katya plays the piano for Arkady at Madame Odintsov's request for entertainment. As much as Arkady has tried to hide his love for music, he feels overwhelmed by the beauty of the Mozart work Katya plays, feeling "especially struck by the last part of the sonata" where he feels the music "broken into by the pangs of such a sad and almost tragic suffering." As much as Arkady has wanted to embrace nihilism, his romantic nature lies restless beneath the surface. As the novel progresses, Arkady falls in love with Katya and rejects his nihilism altogether. The reader imagines their future as similar to Nikolai and Masha's loving relationship with music playing an important supporting role.


Flowers symbolize feminine innocence. When the reader first meets Katya, she enters the room carrying a bouquet of flowers. The narrator notes "everything about [Katya] was still young and underdeveloped." Bazarov himself claims Katya would be a better romantic match than her sister because "she's worth educating and developing. You might make something of her." As Bazarov and Madame Odintsov discuss philosophy, Katya sits quietly sorting her flowers into neat piles, completely removed from the "adult" conversation.

Flowers return in Chapter 23 as Bazarov flirts with Fenitchka. They sit on a picnic blanket as Fenitchka bundles flowers in nosegays. Through all of Bazarov's obvious flirting, Fenitchka doesn't really understand what's going on. In fact she has no idea "whether he was joking or not." Bazarov requests a rose in lieu of payment for his medical advice, but it's clear he's asking for sex. He then asks Fenitchka to enjoy the pleasure with him and "smell the flower with me." Symbolically by asking for the flower, Bazarov asks Fenitchka for her innocence.

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