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Written by Nicola Francisc
A motif that appears throughout the book is the differences between the older and the younger generation. Nikolai and Pavel sit at opposite poles from Arkady and Bazarov in matters regarding marriage, farming and philosophical views. Because of these differences, the two sides appear to be in a constant conflict and there are always disagreements between the two.
In the novel, Piotr and Prakofitch can be considered as being symbols for the types of servants that still existed in Russia during those times. Servants were no longer considered as being almost slaves as they were before and the newly found independence is seen in Piotr. He bows to Arkady when he comes home, but he doesn’t do the same for Bazarov nor does he kiss Arkady’s hand as it was common in the older times. Piotr is not bound to the old customs that the servants had to obey and is able to choose how he shows respect towards his superiors. Prakofitch on the other hand, still holds onto the old customs and kisses Arkady’s hand and shows other signs that point towards the fact that he is a symbol of the old type of servant who can be found in the homes of aristocrats.
Bazarov is used as a symbol for the modern man, the rising middle class. The author of the book was interested in the social reforms that took place during his time and this can be seen in the novel he wrote as well. Consequently, Bazarov is the result of the new ideas the Russian society has, ideas that are frowned upon by the conservative population. Bazarov embodies the new concepts that appeared in those times like nihilism, an ever-growing interest for science and a rationalist type of thinking.
Nihilism becomes a motif from the early chapters of the book. Russia was among the first countries to accept the nihilist way of thinking and Bazarov represents the new generation, the modern man who believes in nothing. The novel explains what nihilism is and how those who are nihilists are regarded by the old aristocrat society. Between the conservative population and those who believe in nihilism exists an ongoing conflict that remains unsolved until the end of the novel.
Daydreaming is presented only once in the novel when Nikolai thinks about his past. Daydreaming is a symbol that links Nikolai to the romantic period, a time dominated by utopic dreams and illusions. While most of the characters in the book are inclined towards realism, symbols like daydreaming still point towards a romantic tendency that coexisted with the nihilism common in that period.
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