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Young versus Old Generation
One of the major themes of Fathers and Sons is the Generation Lapse due to changing time with change in ideas, beliefs and approach towards life. While the older generation including Nikolay Kirsanov and his brother Pavel Petrovich function on a set of principles pertaining to marriage, social class and science, the young minds of Bazarov and Arkady deny and disrespect such principles. Calling themselves "Nihilists", Arkady triumphantly defines 'Nihilist' as a "person who does not take any principle for granted, however much that principle may be revered". Though which approach is better could be debated, there is no doubt that from the first chapter of the novel Turgenev highlights the changing discourse towards life due to change in belief system. Nikolay later ponders how he never thought his father could understand him and now, similarly he fails to understand his son. Turgenev highlights how no two generations could really understand each other. As the title suggest the novel focuses on the relationship between father and son but it also focuses on the comparison between the two. While Nikolay has tried to keep an open minded approach, he still fails to understand the book that his son has subtly substituted and ends up calling it ''rubbish''. Similarly, Old Bazarov has tried to keep up with the changing time, he has also failed to understand and accept the new beliefs of the younger generation. There rises a major contrast between the young, fresh ideas of the city students conflicting with the traditional and conventional ideas of the country-side thinkers
Turgenev was a writer intently interested in social reforms, and as a realistic novelist, he set his work in contemporary Russia. The novel is set in the year 1859 carefully depicts the gradual rise of nihilism through his main young characters, Bazarov and Arkady. The novel focuses on the growing liberalism in Russia, the move to emancipate the serfs in 1861 and the anger and radicalism of the younger Russian generation. This carefully crafted piece of fiction portrays a historical record due to its realistic narrative and style. Parents relate to Nikolay Petrovich attempting to understand his son while the children related to Bazarov and Arkady with their different ideologies.
Turgenev focuses a great deal on “Nihilism”, a philosophy that takes no principle whatsoever for granted, everything is open to question. Contrary to the Conservative Russian philosophy, Fathers and Sons glorify nihilism through the character of Bazarov. Going by the Latin meaning, Nikolay thinks the philosophy ascribes to a man who recognizes nothing, which is partly true. Pavel highlights the popular critique of Nihilism, giving a voice to the Conservative Russians. He openly says Nihilists are men who “respect nothing” and challenges the younger generations “we shall see how you exist in a void, in an airless vacuum”. It is true that by the end of the novel, Bazarov goes against his own ideology by falling in love and bringing his own downfall by romanticism, something he didn’t believe in at all. Bazarov’s end is sad, lonely and undesired. He is not able to comprehend his own ideology and ultimately falls prey to his own misunderstanding of himself. Turgenev though provides a new contemporary outlook of the young generation of the Russian society but he also provides a fair warning to the young minds how dangerous this ideology can be if not understood and practiced carefully.
Love and Affection
Though it may not be seen clearly but love and affection play an important part in the novel. Nikolay has great affection for his son and is ready to do anything for him. He is ashamed of his second marraige to Fenekcha because he thinks his son might not approve it. Nikolay goes beyond his means to provide happiness and materialistic avenues to his son. There is mutual love between the two as Arkady too highly respects and loves his father trying to do everything to mach him happy. The love between Arkady and Kathya is also true and innocent. Even though they believe they couldn't fall for each other they live a happy married life. In case of Bazarov, he fails to understand his paternal love continuously condescending his father and mother. He fails to win Anna as he fails to understand himself. They do not fall in love because of their own different ideologies. But the innocent love among the characters is real and innocent.
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