Whereas half of the characters in Fathers and Sons are overwhelmingly sincere (Nikolai and Arkady), others are defined, above all, by their wit (Bazarov, Madame Odintsov). At times, cleverness seems to be a sign of superior intelligence, and at times it seems nothing but an effort to disguise how little a character knows. As the novel goes on, it becomes clear that the characters who most like to play with words eventually are left at the mercy of them; their words seem to play with them as they get tricked into believing their own clever quips.
Bazarov uses witty retorts in an attempt to hide his own ignorance and inability to argue logically.
Bazarov often seems more interested in how a sentence sounds than in what it means; he becomes trapped by his cleverness because he actually believes his own quips.