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Themes

Turgenev's Fathers and Sons is set during a time of social unrest in Russia as a whole. The tsar is currently in the process of emancipating the serfs, which causes huge changes in Russia on the most personal of levels: how masters relate to their servants. At first, it seems as if these minor anecdotes about peasants of the "old" and "modern" outlook are simply ornamental, part of the historical setting of the story. Yet, as Fathers and Sons moves on, it becomes clear that issues of society and class lie at the heart of the novel: Bazarov's nihilism does not make sense unless it is placed in a social and historical context.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. What seem to have been Nikolai's motivations for freeing his peasants at Maryino? What aspects of the historical context are relevant for understanding this part of the story?
  2. How is Nikolai and Fenichka's relationship shaped by their different societal positions?
  3. To what extent is Anna Sergeyevna's viewpoint shaped by her social position? In the novel at large, do characters' viewpoints seem more influenced by their values or by their class?
  4. Where do Bazarov's sympathies lie, societally speaking? Why does he make fun of the peasants at the same time that he tries to relate to them?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Though Bazarov claims that he sympathizes with the peasants, his behavior suggests that his real sympathies lie with the more sophisticated members of the gentry.

Anna Sergeyevna's sense of independence and her sense of wandering toward an uncertain goal are both direct results of her social class. If she had not inherited Odintsov's wealth, then love and ambition would not have appeared to her as choices; they would have appeared to her as necessities.

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