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Themes

One of Turgenev's main goals in Fathers and Sons is to accurately portray a massive cultural struggle in mid-nineteenth century Russia. As the novel moves on, it is clear that he is not aiming at accuracy for the sake of accuracy. The goal is that such an accurate portrayal will also allow the reader to distill some wisdom from the narrative. As the characters age and grow humble through experience, they often speak wisely. But just as often the narrator breaks the bounds of "straight story-telling" so that he can pass on a kernel of wisdom to the reader.

Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge

  1. Where is the wisdom in Pavel's dismissals of the "nihilism" of the younger generation? Where are the shortcomings?
  2. Are youth and wisdom portrayed as being incompatible in the story? How would you characterize the intelligence of the younger generation if not as "wisdom"?
  3. What is the relationship between tradition and wisdom? To what extent is wisdom a sense of respect for what has come before? To what extent is it a break from what has come before?
  4. What is the effect of the narrator occasionally interrupting the story in order to give the reader his own bits of wisdom? What seems to be the main message the narrator wants the reader to take away from the story?

Chew on This

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

As Bazarov becomes melancholy and then sick, he learns that wisdom is inseparable from suffering and a sense of one's own insignificance.

Pavel Petrovich's sense of wisdom as basic self-respect and respect for civilization at large is inherently bound up with a conservative viewpoint; there is no room for progress if one is weighed down by a sense of duty to what has come before.

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