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Literature / Fathers and Sons

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"Every single man hangs by a thread, a bottomless pit can open beneath him any minute, and yet he still goes on thinking up unpleasantness for himself and making a mess of his life."

Fathers and Sons is a 1862 book by Ivan Turgenev. It is the last in the row of his several important works and is considered to be his most significant full-length novel.

Its main hero, Evgeny Bazarov, is a Straw Nihilist and probably the first example of this trope. The main distinguishing feature of Bazarov is that he denies everything. He proclaims that no things are significant at all.

This general attitude enters in contradiction with his job as a doctor and a researcher. Also while Bazarov is implied to be a revolutionary, he only denies things, rejecting any positive values. While being a revolutionary logically means condemning only the current conditions (in the 1862 those set by the repressive Tsarist regime), however that same revolutionary should be very keen on the ideas of freedom and revolt and have high hopes for the society that be. Bazarov lacks it all, he always denies everything, never offering a constructive (or even destructive) program. Most probably Turgenev could not depict an overt revolutionary as the Tsarist censorship would not give his book a pass then, Therefore the author disguised him as a mere "nihilist". Still it muddled the message of the book and its hero.


Other characters of the novel include the members of the Kirsanov family whose estate Bazarov is visiting. Also appear several of Bazarov’s fellow nihilists who are definitely comical caricatures.

The book did not find favour with the upcoming progressive flank. Turgenev was accused of drawing a caricature of a revolutionary in the caracter of Bazarov (to say nothing of the other nihilists). Young activists launched a backlash against the author, in the aftermath he quit Russia and settled in France.


Fathers and Sons contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Aloof Big Brother: Pavel Kirsanov (in his mid-forties) for Nikolai Kirsanov (in his early forties). Pavel has a strong character and is a somewhat harsh man of conservative views. Nikolai is a kind-hearted liberal.
  • Beta Couple: Arkady and Katya. Arkady is a relatively meek (though kind-hearted) friend of the tremendous Bazarov. Katya is a much younger maiden sister of the mature and independent Odintsova. In the end they marry and live happily.
  • Big Brother Instinct: While Nikolai Kirsanov carries on a May–December Romance with Fenechka, Pavel Kirsanov is secretly fond of the young woman as well but never makes any attempts. Once Pavel Kirsanov notices how Bazarov hits at Fenechka. He is enraged (as he had already been irritated by Bazarov's views) so he challenges the nihilist to a duel. Bazarov shots him in the leg and quits the estate.
  • Carry a Big Stick: Performed by Pavel Kirsanov. When he finally decides to have a duel with Bazarov, he comes to him carrying a big stick. As Bazarov is a nihilist who proclaims that he does not give a damn about anything, he is expected to also reject duels as a worthless archaic aristocratic rite. Then Kirsanov would resort to this stick to insult Bazaroiv physically. However Bazarov the nihilist plainly assures Pavel Kirsanov that he is quite ready to give him full satisfaction. The stick is never used and the two simply fight in the duel. Pavel Kirsanov is slightly wounded.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Nikolai Kirsanov is happily married with Fenechka and Arkady is happily married with Katya. Both of these characters are kind, good-hearted men. Bazarov and Pavel Kirsanov are more complicated cases, that's why in the end they do not get the girl.
  • The Hero Dies: Bazarov dies of the blood poisoning.
  • Just a Flesh Wound: That's how the duel with Bazarov ends for Pavel Kirsanov. He is shot in the leg but is out of any danger.
  • May–December Romance: For Nikolai Kirsanov in his early forties and Fenechka who is 23. They marry and live happily.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Played for the tearjerking drama in the end as Bazarov dies and his parents now have to live without him.
  • Parody:
    • The scene of the duel is treated very ironically, it is a spoof of the famous duels in the previous acclaimed literary works.
    • Also Kukshina and Stnikov are the parodies of Bazarov.
  • Romancing the Widow: Bazarov courts Odintsova, an independent and rich 29 year old woman who lost her husband. She takes a liking to him but cannot fully reciprocate his feelings.
  • Straw Nihilist: Bazarov is actually the earliest example of this trope.