The story starts on the 20th of May, 1859, when Nikolai Kirsanov, the son of a Russian general, waits for the arrival of his son. The reader is provided with some biographical information about Nikolai Kirsanov and it is revealed that he was raised in South and has another brother named Pavel. Nikolai was supposed to follow a career in the military but because he broke his leg on the day he was commissioned, his father sent him to Petersburg and enrolled him into a University. Nikolai remained there for a few years and in the in the year when Nikolai finished his studies, his father had a stroke and died and his mother followed shortly after.
Nikolai married with his landlord’s daughter and had one son together named Arkady. Ten years after their son’s birth, Nikolai’s wife also died and Nikolai raised his son alone. Nikolai accompanied his son to Petersburg instead and enrolled him in the University of Petersburg. But because Nikolai was getting older, he was forced to return to his home to his countryside and wait for his son to return home.
The story then returns to the present time, when Nikolai keeps on watching the road until he sees a carriage caring his son so he runs to greet him. Arkady doesn’t come alone, but with his friend Bazarov and they all get into carriages and head toward Nikolai’s house.
On the way home, Arkady asks about his uncle Pavel but his father tells him that Pavel sent word that he changed his mind at the last minute and didn’t come to see him. Next, they talk about Bazarov and Arkady praises him and his intelligence. When they pass by some peasants, Nikolai tells his son that they have been refusing to pay their taxes but Arkady cuts him off, more preoccupied if they will have shade or not once they arrive.
Nikolai tells Arkady about the servants in the house and about a girl named Fenichka who lives with him. Nikolai seems embarrassed about that but Arkady doesn’t criticize him. What pains Arkady, however, is to see that his father’s estate slowly turned to ruin.
When they arrive at Maryino, the small party is welcomed by a young girl and boy. An old servant named Prokofyich also appears to greet Arkady. Pavel comes also and greets his nephew but doesn’t greet Bazarov.
The four of them go and have supper and they discuss farming and about the political reforms. Pavel is not regarded in a positive light by those around the table and when they depart, they start talking about him.
The next day, Bazarov goes to inspect Nikolai’s estate before going to a pond to look for frogs to dissect. When Nikolai and Arkady wake up, they go out on the porch to eat breakfast but Arkady is disappointed that they are not served by Fenichka so he goes searching for her to prove to them that he doesn’t disapprove of their relationship. When Arkady returns, he tells his father that he introduced himself to her and that he found out that he has a baby brother but doesn’t let it be understood that he blames his father for it.
When Pavel comes to them, they talk a bit about Bazarov and when Arkady tells him that Bazarov’s father lives nearby, Pavel remembers that there used to be a surgeon with the same name in their father’s division. Next, Arkady reveals that Bazarov is a nihilist and then the three of them start discussing what nihilism is.
When they ring the bell for the servant, Fenichka appears. While Arkady and Nikolai are pleased with this, it is clear that her presence somehow irritates Pavel.
Bazarov returns and he and Pavel start discussing sciences and how the Germans seem to be ahead of the Russians in this department. Pavel tries to make Bazarov look bad and is rude but doesn’t succeed so he leaves. Arkady tells Bazarov that his uncle deserves to be pitied, because of what happened in his past when he felt in love with a married woman. She lost her interests in him and Pavel nearly lost his mind because of that. The woman left but Pavel never stopped searching for her. They meet again after four years in Germany but she once again disappeared without a trace. Pavel returned to Russia around the time Arkady’s mother passed away. After a while, Pavel received a note informing him that the woman he loved died and that pushed him to move with his brother at Maryino. Since then, he helped his father financially and he stands up for the peasants. After the story, Bazarov tells Arkady that he doesn’t think that Pavel deserves to be pitied and that he is responsible for his own unhappiness.
Pavel goes to a meeting to resolve certain problems and when he returns, he visits Fenichka in her room provided by Nikolai. Pavel asks to see the baby and Fenichka makes a servant bring baby Mitya who is almost seven months old. Nikolai comes too so Pavel takes his leave.
We find that Fenichka came to Nikola’s manor with her mother after Nikolai moved there but Arina, Fenichka’s mother kept her away from Nikolai. One day, however, Fenichka got a spark from the stove in her eye and her mother took her to Nikolai who gave her an ointment. Both the master and the girl remained impressed by one another and after Arina died, Fenichka remained with Nikolai.
Nikolai is pleased to see that both Pavel and Arkady have accepted Fenichka as part of his life. During the same day, Bazarov sees Fenichka while he and Arkady are taking a walk so he goes to introduce himself to her and takes the baby into his arms. The baby remains calm, but when Arkady tries to hold him, the baby starts screaming so the two men walk away. They talk a bit about her and Arkady reveals that he would like his father to marry Fenichka.
Two weeks pass and Bazarov remains with Arkady and begins to be liked by some around the house except Pavel and a servant.
Arkady tries to introduce his father to more serious books at Bazarov’s advice but while Nikolai is willing to accept his advice, Pavel remains skeptical. Nikolai tells Pavel that one of their relatives, Matvei Ilyich invited them to his estate but they decided to refuse since they believed Matvei is only trying to show off his wealth.
That day, an argument arises between Pavel and Bazarov about nihilism and about the Russian society and Arkady takes Bazarov’s side. Nikolai is saddened to see how much of a difference is between himself and his son and he realizes that he is no longer a young man.
Bazarov and Arkady decide to go and visit Nikolai’s distant relative in Nikolai’s place and while the servants are sad to see them leave, Pavel and Nikolai are relieved.
Kolyazin greets Arkady and Bazarov warmly but expresses his disappointment that Pavel and Nikolai didn’t come. Kolyazin offers to take Arkady to go see the governor, and he agrees after he convinces Bazarov to go as well.
On the way back, they are stopped by a man named Herr Sitnikov who tells Bazarov that his father is also in town and that he has spent the day looking for him and that he should meet Madame Kukshin, a woman who recently separated from her husband. The three men go to Madame Kukshin and she starts interrogating Arkady and Bazarov, the latter asking if there are any beautiful ladies in town. They start talking about feminism and Sitnikov takes pleasure in destroying Madame Kukshin’s beliefs. They all get drunk and Bazarov and Arkady get up and leave.
Arkady is introduced to everyone worth knowing at the ball where they see Madame Odintsov, the woman Herr Sitnikov told them about. Arkady and Bazarov admit that she is very beautiful and graceful and when Arkady asks her to dance with him, she agrees. They talk for a bit and Madame Odintsov invites Arkady and Bazarov to go and visit her. It is clear that both men became interested in her.
When Arkady and Bazarov go and visit her, it is clear that Bazarov is somehow intimidated by her. The three talk for three hours and the narrator notices how Madame Odintsov seems to see Arkady as a younger brother and nothing more. When the conversation ends, Odintsov invites them to her place at Nikolskoye. Arkady gratefully accepts and is surprised to see that as Bazarov bows in agreement, he is blushing. Three days later, they are in a carriage heading towards Nikolskoye.
Madame Odintsov thanks them for coming and announces that she lives with her younger sister and her aunt. Her younger sister, Katya, comes running into the room and after she leaves, Madame Odintsov and Bazarov start talking about art and about the differences between humans. Madame Odintsov aunt comes down and Arkady notices that even if everyone is polite with her, they more or less ignore her.
Porfiry Platonych, Madame Odintsov’s neighbor comes and while she invites Bazarov to play cards with them, she sends her sister to play something for Arkady at the piano. Arkady notices that Katya is attractive but when he tries to speak with her, she becomes quiet. Bazarov loses at cards and when they return home, Bazarov tells Arkady that he prefers Katya to Anna. Anna Sergeyevna is also thinking about her guests as she prepares for bed. There is something about Bazarov that excites her curiosity.
The next day, they meet again with Madame Odintsov and Arkady is jealous of Bazarov. The two men remain at her house for two weeks and Bazarov gradually starts to change. Bazarov realizes that Madame Odintsov will not be an easy conquest so one day, while the two were walking in the garden, tells her that he will leave because he has to visit his parents. Madame Odintsov tries to make him stay but Bazarov becomes cold. The next day, Madame Odintsov and Bazarov talk, and Bazarov confesses that he is in love with her but from her reaction Bazarov concludes that she doesn’t feel the same way about him.
Things between them get awkward, especially during dinner time, but the unexpected arrival of Victor Sitnikov seems to ease the situation a bit. That night, Bazarov and Arkady talk, and Arkady is interested in finding why his friend is depressed but he is unwilling to answer. Arkady plans to leave too since Bazarov already decided to go to his parents but Bazarov remains unmoved.
Bazarov and Arkady travel to Bazarov’s parents who are very happy to see their son after three years of absence. They stay however only three days because Bazarov became bored with the quiet life. The announcement that he was going to leave broke Bazarov’s parents heart but they didn’t try to hold him back.They stop on their way back at Madame Odintsov but they continue their journey to Arkady’s home. At Maryino, the boys are received well, both by Nikolai and Pavel.
At Maryino, Arkady tries to help his father but keeps on thinking about Madame Odintsov so he finds a pretext to go and visit her. Bazarov becomes more withdrawn and he even stops arguing with Pavel. Though Bazarov is very isolated, there is one person he still speaks openly with, and that person is Fenichka. Bazarov even makes an attempt to kiss her but they are discovered by Pavel.
That same day when Bazarov tried to kiss Fenichka, Pavel goes to Bazarov and challenges him to a duel. Bazarov agrees but regrets it almost as soon as Pavel leaves. The duel takes place the next day and Bazarov manages to injure Pavel by shooting his thigh so they stop the duel. A servant runs after a carriage and Nikolai comes too. Bazarov tells them that he will leave but he first takes care of Pavel’s wound. The next day, Bazarov leaves without saying goodbye to the servants in the house.
Pavel recovers quickly and it becomes clear that he likes Fenichka a lot, to the point where he tells her to stop loving his brother. Fenichka starts crying and when Nikolai comes into the room, she runs into his arms. Seeing this, Pavel urges his brother to marry her and Nikolai agrees.
Meanwhile, Arkady is at Madame Odintsov’s house, getting closer and closer to Katya. Arkady even admits that he would choose Katya over her sister and this leaves Katya shaken. Bazarov arrives there too and asks to see Arkady and tells him what happened between him and Pavel. Arkady urges Bazarov to go and speak with Anna Sergeyevna and he does so. Bazarov asks Anna Sergeyevna if she had noticed that Arkady is in love with her but she refused to believe it.
Meanwhile, Arkady tells Katya that he loves her and asks her to marry him. Katya agrees and Anna too agrees to give them her blessing. Bazarov decides to leave after this, even though Anna tried to convince him to stay. Before leaving, Bazarov goes to Arkady and congratulates him on his engagement.
Bazarov returns to his parents and tells them that he will remain with them for six weeks. Bazarov’s behavior worries his father but he decides to remain quiet about it.
During his stay with his parents, Bazarov comes into contact with a patient who was suffering from typhus and he too gets ill soon. Bazarov tells his father to send word to Madame Odintsov and tell her what happened. Madame Odintsov comes quickly with a German doctor who examines him but admits that there is nothing he can do. Bazarov and Madame Odintsov talk one more time before Bazarov dies.
The story moves forward, in winter, after the Arkady’s wedding and Nikolai’s weeding. Pavel decided to go to Moscow and the whole family gathers to see him off.
The narrator then proceeds by to tell the reader what had happened with the other characters. Madame Odintsov married again and her aunt died shortly after. Arkady and his father started to manage their estate together and Katya had a little son. Katya and Fenichka became close friends and Pavel became a key figure in polite society. Lastly, the narrator talks about Bazarov, buried in a little graveyard, frequently visited by his parents who weep at his grave.