Study Guide

Fathers and Sons Quotes

  • Wisdom and Knowledge

    "Without principles taken as you say on trust one cannot move an inch or draw a single breath." (5.60)

    Is Pavel's refutation of nihilism valid? If Arkady and Bazarov were good nihilists, how would they find reason to act? Is nihilism really the paralyzing philosophy that Pavel makes it out to be?

    "Yes. It used to be Hegelians, and now there are nihilists. We shall see how you manage to exist in a void, in an airless vacuum; and now please ring the bell, brother Nikolai, it is time for me to drink my cocoa." (5.62)

    How does Pavel's experience allow him to so quickly see the faults of nihilism? Why is Arkady blind to them? Should Pavel be more aggressive in refuting his grandson? Why do you think he is so relaxed about the pernicious (potentially harmful) philosophy?

    That indefinite twilight period of regrets that are akin to hopes, and hopes which are akin to regrets, when youth is over and old age has not yet come. (7.7)

    What is it about the ambiguity of this period – the interplay of hopes and regrets – that might give way to wisdom? Is Pavel's wisdom a result of his suffering? Is wisdom always a result of suffering? Is youth incompatible with wisdom?

    Is there anything in the world more captivating than a beautiful young mother with a healthy child in her arms? (8.24)

    Who is saying this? Is this a unique moment when the narrator suddenly appears to offer us a little kernel of wisdom? Is it disrupting to have him do so? What does his relation to the story seem to be?

    "Only immoral or silly people can live in our age without principles." (10.48)

    Is Pavel simplifying things here? What is the kernel of wisdom that he is attempting to impart to Bazarov? Are their points of view inherently opposed to each other or is there some place for a mutual understanding? Is Bazarov really attempting to go forward without principles?

    "At last I said to her, 'Of course, you cannot understand me: we belong to two different generations,' I said. She was dreadfully offended but I thought to myself, 'It can't be helped. It is a bitter pill but she must swallow it.' You see, now our turn has come, and our successors say to us, "You are not of our generation: swallow your pill.'" (10.121)

    Is Nikolai being too fatalistic? What happens if he simply accepts that two generations cannot understand one another? Where is the wisdom in his idea and where is the shortcoming? Does Nikolai ever seem to share his father's viewpoint on the gap between generations?

    Time (as we all know) sometimes flies like a bird and sometimes crawls like a snail; but man is happiest when he does not even notice whether time is passing quickly or slowly. (17.1)

    The narrator here gives us an "aphorism" – a general truism. He is describing something specific – Bazarov and Arkady's stay at the Odintsovs' – but he decides to expand it into a general principle. How do you feel about this technique? How is this type of wisdom intimately bound up with the point of view that the narrator assumes in the novel? If he took a more limited point of view, would he still be able to leave us with this wisdom?

    "You see what I'm doing: there happened to be an empty space in my trunk, and I'm stuffing it with hay; it's the same with the trunk which is our life: we fill it with anything that comes to hand rather than leave a void." (26.150)

    After Arkady asks Bazarov why he congratulates him on marriage when Bazarov detests marriage, it becomes clear that Bazarov is aware of a "void" in his own life. It also becomes clear that he knows his attempts to plug this void are fairly trivial; he is willing to "fill it with anything that comes to hand." What do you think is the void in Bazarov's life? Do you think the fact that he is aware of his attempts to fill it make him better off? Does this strike you as a bit of wisdom or just more cleverness?

    "Live long, that's best of all, and make the most of it while there's time. Take a good look at this hideous spectacle; a worm, half crushed but writing still. And yet there was a time when I, too, thought of all the things I would do, and never die, why should I? There were problems to solve, I said to myself, and I'm a giant. And now the only problem for this giant is how to die decently, though that makes no difference to anyone." (27.145)

    Has Bazarov attained something like wisdom or is he simply in a state of despair? Is it possible to have wisdom without humility? How might someone like Anna Sergeyevna take the advice "die decently" when she is not dying? What do dying decently and living decently have in common? What has Bazarov learned from his own tragedy?

    But are those prayers of theirs, those tears, all fruitless? Is their love, their hallowed selfless love, not omnipotent? Oh yes! However passionate, sinful and rebellious the heart hidden in the tomb, the flowers growing over it peep at us serenely with their innocent eyes; they speak to us not only of eternal peace, of the vast repose of "indifferent" nature: they tell us, too, of everlasting reconciliation and of life which has no end. (28.12)

    The narrator here gives himself the last word over Bazarov's pessimistic viewpoint. Does he seem to be dismissing Bazarov? If this is the "message" to be transmitted by the story then why tell the story? Why do you think these are the last lines of the novel? Could they exist anywhere else in the novel?

  • Society and Class

    Piotr, being one of the modern 'up-to-date' servants, had not approached to kiss the young master's hand but merely bowed to him from a distance, now vanished again through the gateway. (2.14)

    What do you think has changed between the outlooks of the old servants and the new ones? Why might a servant no longer kiss a master's hand? Is this a sign of greater respect or lesser? How do servants know how to act when an outlook is in the process of changing?

    "To the town, most likely. To the tavern," he added contemptuously, and half turned towards the coachman as if calling him to witness. But the coachman remained completely aloof: he was a peasant of the old type who disapproved of the modern outlook. (3.20)

    Piotr has been identified as a servant of the 'modern outlook.' He here speaks scornfully of other peasants who seem to be using their new freedom to go the tavern. He tries to enlist the coachman, but the coachman disagrees with his attitude. What exactly is the modern outlook with which the coachman is disagreeing? If he disapproves of the new freedom of the peasants, wouldn't he agree with Piotr? Is he simply showing solidarity with the peasants?

    "Well, I have made a change there. I decided not to keep any of the former house-serfs about the place, once they received their freedom; or at least not to entrust them with any jobs involving responsibility." (3.37)

    Doesn't it seem paradoxical that Nikolai frees his peasants, but as a result has less trust in them? Why would he free them if he couldn't count on them to work after they were free? Does Nikolai seem to be acting in the peasants' best interest or his own? What, then, is his motivation for acting the way he does?

    She looked as if she were ashamed to have come in, yet at the same time somehow felt that she had a right to come. (5.63)

    This is the narrator's description of Fenichka when she comes out to serve everyone tea. This description captures the uneven nature of her relationship with Nikolai. Why should she be ashamed to come out and serve them tea? Whose standards seem to be controlling her emotions – her own or those of the men around her?

    Pavel Petrovich himself felt that his bon mot had fallen flat and began to talk about farming and the new bailiff who had come to him the day before with a complaint about Foma, a farm-hand who kept slinking off and was quite unmanageable. "A regular Aesop, that Foma," the steward had added. "Shown himself all round to be a worthless fellow; but he'll live and learn, and shake off his stupid ways." (5.74)

    By now, it's clear that the novel is tinged with such little anecdotes about lazy peasants. Why do you think it is that these little anecdotes are so important to the historical setting of the novel? How important is this context to understanding the family struggles that lie at the heart of the novel?

    The estate had only recently been put on to the new system, whose mechanism still creaked like an ungreased wheel, and cracked in places like home-made furniture of unseasoned wood. (8.1)

    What seems to be causing all the trouble with switching over to the new estate system – the one where the peasants are free and they just pay taxes? What do you make of the comparison to "unseasoned wood"? What might be the "unseasoned wood" in the new system?

    "The only good thing about a Russian is the poor opinion he has of himself." (9.46)

    Who does Bazarov sympathize with, aside from himself? Why do you think it is that he has such a poor opinion of Russians? How does he see himself as being different from the average Russian? Do you think he has more sympathy for the peasants or the gentry? How can you tell?

    Old Prokofyich was the only one to dislike him, looking sour when he served him at table, calling him a "butcher" and a "humbug" and declaring that with his side-whiskers he was a regular pig in a poke. Prokofyich in his own way was quite as much of an aristocrat as Pavel Petrovich. (10.1)

    What does the narrator mean by the word "aristocrat" in this context? Why do you think that Prokofyich begins to mimic the behavior and attitudes of his master? What values do they have in common that may make them think similarly? What seems more important to their ways of thinking – their values or their societal positions?

    "I am seeking to prove phthis—without a sense of proper pride, without a sense of self-respect—and these feelings are highly developed in the aristocrat—there can be no firm foundation for the social... bien public... the social fabric." (10.45)

    Take a look at the view that Bazarov will later take with Madame Odintsov (below). How are these two ideas the complete inverses of one another? Which one seems to you more correct? Based on what happens as the story goes on, does one begin to seem more correct than the other?

    "Oh yes, there is: it's like the difference between the sick and the healthy. The lungs of the consumptive are not in the same condition as yours and mine, though they are constructed on the same lines. We know more or less what causes physical ailments; and moral diseases are caused by the wrong sort of education, by all the rubbish people's heads are stuffed with from childhood onwards, in short by the disordered state of society. Reform society and there will be no diseases." (16.42)

    Is there any room in Bazarov's view of social ills for individual responsibility? Is this view incompatible with Bazarov's thought that everyone needs to take charge of their own education? Doesn't he seem to maintain his own independence at the same that he assumes that no one else is capable of their own?

  • Philosophical Viewpoints

    "A nihilist is a person who does not take any principle for granted, however much that principle may be revered." (5.57)

    Based on the different discussion of nihilism throughout the book, does Arkady seem to have a good understanding of what nihilism is? In what way does this make nihilism similar to the scientific method? Does it seem, in any way whatsoever, to be a practical philosophy? Is it supposed to be?

    "We base our conduct on what we recognize as useful," Bazarov went on. "In these days the most useful thing we can do is to repudiate – and so we repudiate." (10.58)

    Is there a contradiction in Bazarov's explanation of his life philosophy? How is repudiation useful? Does the word "do" seem like an overstatement? Can inactivity be useful?

    "Nihilism's a panacea for every ill, and you – you are our saviors and heroes. Very well. But why do you abuse other people, even other accusers like yourselves? Aren't you just talking like all the rest?" (10.96)

    Is Pavel's caricature of nihilism unfair? Is it accurate? Is nihilism a position that can be defended in argument? If they decide only to do what is useful and if they don't deem talking useful, then how can they expect to be able to defend their position while talking? Doesn't nihilism apply a certain silence on behalf of its proponents?

    "In the first place, experience of life does that, and in the second, I assure you the study of separate individuals is not worth the trouble it involves. All men are similar, in soul as well as in body. Each of us has a brain, spleen, heart and lungs of similar construction; and the so-called moral qualities are the same in all of us – the slight variations are of no importance. It is enough to have one single human specimen in order to judge all the others. People are like trees in a forest: no botanist would dream of studying each individual birch-tree." (16.39)

    Let's hope that we all recognize how absurd Bazarov's viewpoint is. How does this application of a scientific point of view to basic human matters fall incredibly short? Could there be a modified view that would not fall so short? Is Bazarov simply articulating his position incorrectly or is there something fundamentally wrong with it?

    "System is needed in everything." (16.74)

    How does Anna Sergeyevna's retort to Bazarov capture one of the basic problems of nihilism as a basic code of conduct? Does Anna Sergeyevna act as if there is system in everything? Is she perhaps constrained by this viewpoint?

    "For a thinking man there is no such thing as wilderness." (20.43)

    What does Vassily Ivanych mean by this line? How does the line capture the difference between his own romantic philosophizing and Bazarov's more rationalistic brand? How is Vassily Ivanych comforted by his own philosophy? Is Bazarov ever comforted by his own philosophy?

    "The time has come now – and thank God for it! – when each one of us must secure his sustenance by the work of his own hands; it is no use relying on others – one must labour oneself. Thus Jean-Jacques Rousseau is right." (21.3)

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a belief in the "noble savage," the belief that men were best and noblest before they became corrupted by civilization. Noting the fact that the peasants are now free and that each man must labor for himself, Vassily Ivanych concludes that Rousseau was correct. Why is this conclusion unfounded? Does it seem like a conclusion that Bazarov would make?

    "Here I lie under a haystack... The tiny bit of space I occupy is so minute in comparison with the rest of the universe, where I am not and which is not concerned with me; and the period of time in which it is my lot to live is so infinitesimal compared with the eternity in which I have not been and shall not be... And yet here, in this atom which is myself, in this mathematical point, blood circulates, the brain operates and aspires to something too... What a monstrous business! What futility." (21.58)

    Why is it that Bazarov's philosophizing makes him feel his own insignificance so poignantly? Is the inevitable result of thinking too much? What is the point of viewing the world accurately if it leads to a viewpoint like Bazarov's? Is there something missing from his scientifically 'accurate' worldview that would make his life more livable?

    "As a matter of fact principles don't exist – you haven't tumbled to that even yet – there are feelings. Everything depends on them." (21.90)

    What does Bazarov mean that nothing exists but "feelings"? Doesn't this seem to be contradictory to his anti-romantic output? Do you think he is talking about lofty feelings or so-called base emotions? What does this line about Bazarov's tendency to swing to an extreme whenever he has a new idea?

    "Death is an old jest but it comes new to everyone." (27.141)

    What does Bazarov mean when he calls death a "jest"? Does it seem as if he is taking his own death as a joke or that he is taking it seriously? Why must death always come "new to everyone"? If death is a joke then what is the punch line?

  • Pride

    "An archaic survival! But your father's nice. He wastes his time reading poetry, and knows precious little about farming, but his heart's in the right place." (4.30)

    Let's be a little aggressive here. Who is Bazarov to judge that Nikolai's "heart's in the right place"? Who is he to say that reading poetry is a waste of one time? How much does he actually know about Nikolai? What conceit must he have to dismiss the old man so quickly?

    "Say – who respects nothing," put in Pavel Petrovich, and set to work with the butter again.

    "Who looks at everything critically," observed Arkady.

    "Isn't that exactly the same thing?" asked Pavel Petrovich. (5.54-56)

    Clearly, Pavel is over-simplifying, but how is respect different from a refusal to accept anything without looking at it critically? What is the relationship between pride and nihilism?

    Bazarov's complete indifference exasperated his aristocratic nature. This son of a medico was not only self-assured: he actually returned abrupt and reluctant answers, and there was a churlish, almost insolent note in his voice. (6.11)

    Pavel is taken aback not only by the fact that he has recently learned Bazarov is a nihilist, but by the simple tone of his voice. What is it about Pavel's own pride that makes Bazarov's conceit so apparent to him? Do you think Bazarov is aware of how rude he is to Pavel and Nikolai?

    "And as to the times we live in, why should I depend on them? Much better they should depend on me." (6.19)

    Bazarov refuses to accept Arkady's argument that Pavel and Nikolai grew up in different times and had a different experience. His retort is clearly the result of personal pride, but in what ways does it seem compatible with truth? In what ways does his pride lead him to falsehood? What is the difference between useful pride in oneself and utter vanity? On what side of the line do you think that Bazarov lies?

    "But evidently one cannot succeed without conceit." (10.17)

    This is Nikolai's observation after Pavel says that Bazarov is conceited. Do you think it is true? In what ways does Bazarov's conceit allow him to succeed? In what ways do you think that it keeps him from succeeding more than he does?

    "It seems the time has come to order our coffins and cross our hands upon our breasts." (10.37)

    Why do you think Nikolai is so humble when his brother Pavel is so proud? Why does he seem so resigned to the fact that they have been surpassed by the younger generation? In what ways does his lack of faith in himself distort his perspective?

    "I can see you're still a fool, my boy. The Sitnikovs of this world are essential to us. I – I would have you understand – I need such louts. It is not for the god to have to bake bricks!..."

    "Oho!" thought Arkady, and only then in a flash did all the fathomless depths of Bazarov's conceit dawn upon him. (19.36-37)

    Is there any way to interpret Bazarov's lines other than that they are spoken by an incredibly arrogant young man? What do you make of the fact that Bazarov's pride has just been severely threatened by the rejection of Anna Sergeyevna? Why might his conceit have reached new heights after this threat?

    "I wanted to say that they, my parents, I mean, are so busy, they don't worry about their own insignificance. It doesn't stick in their throat... whereas I... I feel nothing but depression and rancor." (21.60)

    How is even Bazarov's sense of his own insignificance streaked through by his pride? Is this intense humility the inverse of pride or is it the same thing in a different guise?

    "Bazarov the self-confident did not for a moment suspect that in their eyes he was after all nothing but a sort of buffoon." (27.14)

    After going to chat with the peasants and mock them, Bazarov leaves and we find that the peasants are just as capable of making fun of him. How does Bazarov's self-confidence blind him to this fact? What else do you think his self-confidence blinds him to in the story?

    "A dead man is no companion for the living. My father will tell you what a loss I shall be to Russia... That's bosh, but don't disillusion the old man. Whatever toy comforts a child... you know. And be kind to my mother. You won't find people like them in your great world even if you search for them in daylight and with the help of a lamp... Russia needs me... No, clearly she doesn't. And who is needed? The cobbler's needed, the tailor's needed, the butcher... sells meat... the butcher – wait a minute, I'm getting mixed up... There's a forest here..." (27.147)

    How would you articulate the revelation that Bazarov has in this passage? Do you think that he has acquired new humility? If so, what do you think he has realized that has made him view himself differently? Are these the dying words of a proud man?

  • Love

    "And how is Uncle Pavel? Is he keeping well?" inquired Arkady, anxious, in spite of the genuine almost childish delight filling his heart, to switch the conversation as soon as possible from an emotional to a more commonplace level. (3.2)

    Why might Arkady wish to switch the conversation to a more commonplace level? Why do you think he feels the need to conceal his love for his father? How do children express their love for their parents differently as they grow older?

    Father and son were equally glad to see him at that moment; there are affecting situations from which one is anxious nevertheless to escape as quickly as possible. (5.35)

    Why do both of them feel the desire to escape from the situation? How might the situation have resolved itself if Pavel did not appear? Do you agree with the narrator about these certain types of "affecting situations?" What else characterizes such a situation?

    "That sphinx is – you." (7.4).

    The sphinx is engraved on the ring that Pavel gives to his one true love, Princess R. What do the object of love and a riddle have in common? Why is it that Pavel is particularly drawn to the enigmatic nature of Princess R, to the fact that he cannot understand her?

    Like all women who have not succeeded in falling in love she hankered after something without knowing what it was. (16.84)

    Note that this is the narrator describing Anna Sergeyevna. Does his description strike you as an over-simplification? Does it strike you as sexist? Do you think this line would be widely accepted if it occurred in a novel today?

    Bazarov was a great devotee of women and of feminine beauty, but love in the ideal – or, as he would have expressed it, the romantic – sense he called tomfoolery, unpardonable imbecility. (17.3)

    What do you think Bazarov's problem is with romanticism? How might it be linked with his personal pride? Earlier in the novel he says that he has no patience for science in the abstract, but that science can be very useful. Might he have a similar view of love? Is love sometimes useful?

    "We were discussing happiness, I believe. I was telling you about myself. Incidentally, I just used the word 'happiness.' Tell me, why is it that even when we are enjoying music, for instance, or a beautiful evening, or a conversation in agreeable company, it all seems no more than a hint of some infinite felicity existing apart somewhere, rather than actual happiness – such, I mean, as we ourselves can really possess? Why is it? Or perhaps you never felt like that?" (18.10)

    Why does Anna Sergeyevna talk about happiness and not about love? Do you think she realizes what she is doing to Bazarov? Why do you suspect she is saying this to Bazarov and not to someone else? What do you make of the description, "a hint of some infinite felicity"? Does this seem to you an accurate description of happiness? Of love?

    "If I did not love Nikolai Petrovich I would have nothing to live for." (24.147)

    This is what Fenichka says to Pavel when he questions her on her commitment to his brother. Notice how there is a hidden literality in this statement. Since Nikolai is her caretaker, if she does not love him then she will be out on the streets by herself. What do you make of this cynical reading? Are love and economic practicality compatible?

    "Fenichka," he said in a sort of strange whisper, "love him, do love my brother! He is such a good, kind man. Don't betray him for anyone in the world. Don't heed anyone else! Think – what could be more terrible than to love and not be loved in return! Never forsake my poor dear Nikolai!" (24.162)

    Why do you think Pavel is so invested in Nikolai and Fenichka's relationship? Why do you think he doesn't pursue his own loves anymore? How would it feel safer for him to pursue loves once removed? How is it safer for him to invest his own happiness in his brother?

    "Well, what had I to say to you... That I loved you? That made no sense before, and makes less than ever now. Love is a form, and my particular form is already disintegrating. Better let me say – how lovely you are! And now there you stand, so beautiful..." (27.141)

    What does Bazarov mean that "love is a form"? Does this in some way harken back to his obsession with female beauty? Is he denying that love is a feeling, a deep-rooted emotion? Why is it more comforting for him to locate loveliness in Anna Sergeyevna objectively than it is for him to admit that he loves her (subjectively)?

    Anna Sergeyevna has recently married again, not for love but out of conviction (that it was the reasonable thing to do) a man who promises to be one of the future leaders of Russia, a very able lawyer possessed of vigorous practical sense, a strong will and remarkable gifts of eloquence. He is quite young still, kind-hearted and cold as ice. They live in the greatest harmony together, and may live to attain happiness... or even love. (28.9)

    Does Anna Sergeyevna's behavior in the story make this future predictable? Why do you think she is attracted to excessively rational men? What is it about her that makes her incapable of love? What's the difference between harmony and love? Do you think it's possible to fall in love with someone after you marry them?

  • Man and the Natural World

    The sun blazed down. A smell of warm rye bread was wafted out of the dark passage of the inn. Our Nikolai Petrovich is lost in reverie. "My son... a graduate... my boy Arkady..." Again and again the words ran through his head. He tried to think of other things but back came the same thoughts. He remembered his dead wife. "She did not live to see this day," he murmured sadly... A fat blue-grey pigeon flew down on to the road, hurrying to drink from a puddle beside the wall. (1.9)

    What seems to be the relationship here between Nikolai's inner psychology and the world around him? Why do you think the narrator bounces back and forth between the inner and outer worlds? In what way does he seem to be suggesting that they are related? How would the passage be different if you cut out all the natural descriptions? Would Nikolai's problems seem more or less important?

    Thus Arkady. But even as he reflected spring regained its sway. All around lay a sea of golden green – everything, trees, bushes, grass, gently shone and stirred in sweeping waves under the soft warm breath of the wind; on every side larks poured out their never-ceasing trills. Plovers called as they glided above the low-lying meadows or ran noiselessly over the tufts of grass; the rooks strutted about, black and beautiful against the tender green of the low spring corn: they disappeared in the already whitening rye, and their heads only now and again peeped out from among its smoke-like waves. Arkady gazed and gazed, until his thoughts grew dim and faded away... (3.60)

    In what way does nature control and direct Arkady's thought? What seems to be more powerful – his melancholy or the optimistic nature of spring? Why the long description? How would this be a different passage if the narrator simply said, "But even as he reflected spring regained its sway"?

    At first she was very shy with him, and once, meeting him toward evening on a narrow footpath through a rye field, she plunged into the tall thick rye, overgrown with cornflowers and wormwood, to avoid coming face to face with him. He caught sight of her little head through the golden network of ears of rye, from which she was peering out like a small wild animal. (8.50)

    What is the affect of having Fenichka be compared to "a small wild animal"? Why might Fenichka seem somehow wild to Bazarov? Does it seem condescending to compare her to an animal? How is Fenichka's relationship to the natural world different than that of the other characters'?

    "Nature, too, is trivial, in the sense you give to it. Nature is not a temple, but a workshop, and man's the workman in it." (8.48)

    What is the difference between viewing nature as a temple and viewing it as a workshop? Which seems to be the more environmental view? Why do you think Bazarov is so opposed to the simple experiences of wonder and awe? Would Nikolai be a better estate manager if he viewed nature as a workshop instead of a temple?

    "That poplar-tree," Bazarov remarked, "reminds me of my childhood: it grows on the edge of the pit where the brick kiln used to be, and in those days I firmly believed that the clay-pit and the poplar constituted a special talisman: I never found time hang heavy on my hands when I was near them. I did not understand then that the reason time did not hang heavy was because I was a young boy. Well, now I'm grown up, the talisman no longer works." (21.40)

    How is an enchantment with nature linked with childhood? Why do you think Bazarov has lost this enchantment? Does one necessarily lose it as one grows older or is there something peculiar about Bazarov that has made him lose it?

    "Look," Arkady suddenly exclaimed, "a withered maple leaf has come off and is fluttering to the ground: its movements are exactly like a butterfly in flight. Isn't it strange that something so mournful and dead should be like a creature so gay and full of life?" (21.105)

    A moment later, Bazarov will dismiss Arkady's observation as fancy talk. What might Arkady be indirectly saying about Bazarov here? Why do you think nature expresses this given idea for Arkady? Does the idea seem like it was prompted by nature or that nature just provided a metaphor for it?

    "But you have picked on an excellent spot, and you're giving yourselves up to a fine occupation. Lying on the 'earth', gazing at the 'heavens'... Do you know there is an especial significance in that?" (21.122)

    How does Vassily Ivanych's romantic attitude bind him to Nikolai Petrovich? What is the relationship between romanticism and a feeling of appreciation for nature? Why do you think that Bazarov lacks it? How would you describe the "significance" of lying on the earth and staring at the heavens?

    It was a glorious fresh morning; tiny mottled cloudlets hovered overhead like fleecy lambs in the clear blue sky; fine beads of dew lay on the leaves and grass, and sparkled like silver on the spiders' webs; the moist dark earth still seemed to glow with the rosy tints of dawn; in every quarter of the heavens the larks poured out their song. Bazarov walked as far as the copse, sat down in the shade at its edge and only then disclose to Piotr the nature of the service he expected of him. (24.51)

    Note that this is the natural description preceding the duel between Bazarov and Pavel. How does the description affect the way that the reader perceives their duel? Does it make it seem more ridiculous than it already does? Do you think Bazarov, who lacks any appreciation for nature whatsoever, can see the disconnect?

    "How can I explain? ... He's a wild beast, while you and I are domestic animals." (25.20)

    What do you make of Katya's distinction between Bazarov and Arkady? Does it strike you as ironic that she thinks Bazarov a wild animal even though he has no interest in nature? What about Bazarov makes him a "wild animal"? In what way are Katya and Arkady "domesticated"?

    Like most of our graveyards it has a melancholy look; the ditches round it have long been over-grown; grey wooden crosses sag and rot beneath their once painted gables; the tomb-stones are all askew, as though someone were pushing them from below; two or three shabby trees barely afford some meagre shade; sheep wander at will over the graves... But there is one among the graves which no man molests and no animal tramples upon: only the birds porch on it and sing at dawn. (28.12)

    What do you make of the fact that Bazarov's grave is untouched by men and animals? How does the manner of his burial symbolize the way that he lived his life? Do you think that this was planned by his parents or just happened?

  • Suffering

    Pavel Petrovich had not undressed but merely changed his patent-leather shoes for a pair of heel-less red Chinese slippers. In his hand he held the last number of Galignani but he was not reading; he gazed fixedly into the grate where a bluish flame flickered, dying down, then flaring up again... Heaven only knows where his thoughts meandered but they were not wandering entirely in the past; there was a grim, tense expression on his face and this is not so when a man is absorbed solely by his memories. (4.36)

    Is the passage more or less affecting because the narrator does not actually tell us what is bothering Pavel? How would it strike you differently if he simply explained what was going on in Pavel's mind? If you had to guess at this point, what is Pavel so upset about?

    Her whole behaviour was a maze of inconsistencies; the only letters which might justly have excited her husband's suspicions she wrote to a man she hardly knew, and her love had an element of sadness; she no longer laughed and joked with her heart's choice but would listen to him and gaze at him in bewilderment. (7.2)

    This description of Pavel's love, Princess R., captures her neuroses, and hints at the way she will eventually descend into madness. What is it about her suffering that causes Pavel to suffer as much as he does? What is it about her distance from him (caused, in part, by mental imbalance) that compels him to follow her?

    She had scratched lines in the shape of a cross over the sphinx and sent him a message that the solution of the enigma was the cross. (7.6)

    What do you think the Princess R.'s cross means? Does she mean that the reason she acts so strange is because she is suffering? Is this too easy a dismissal of her strangeness? How was she suffering? Why? Is she, here, passing on the cross to Pavel or simply trying to answer his question?

    On his return from abroad Pavel Petrovich had gone to his brother's with the intention of spending a couple of months with him and enjoying the sight of his happiness, but he could only stand a week. (7.7)

    Why is it that the happiness of other people makes the unhappy even more so? Do you think that Pavel was envious of his brother or did his brother's happiness simply make him think of what he himself did not have? Is there a difference? If so, how exactly would you articulate it?

    He threw himself on the sofa, clasping his hands behind his head and remained motionless, staring at the ceiling with an expression verging on despair. Perhaps because he wanted to hide from the very walls what was reflected in his face, or for some other reason – anyway, he got up, unfastened the heavy window curtains and threw himself back again on the sofa. (8.58)

    Pavel has just spent some time with Fenichka and with Nikolai's new infant, Mitya. Why do you think this induces in him a state of despair? Why do you think Pavel feels compelled to suffer alone? Where would he start if he were to try overcome his despair?

    "I wanted to say that they, my parents, I mean, are so busy, they don't worry about their own insignificance. It doesn't stick in their throat... whereas I... I feel nothing but depression and rancor." (21.60)

    Why do you think Bazarov remains so idle despite the fact that he realizes it is bad for him? Do you think that his depression started when Anna Sergeyevna rebuffed him or do you think it started earlier? Is he being melodramatic? Why do you think it is that depressed people have trouble doing anything when action is exactly what might help them get rid of their depression?

    Vassily Ivanych took his hands from his face and clasped his wife, his friend, more warmly than he had ever done before, even in their youth: she had consoled him in his grief. (21.191)

    How are Arina Vlassyevna and Vassily Ivanych bound together by their suffering? Why do you think it is that Arina Vlassyevna, the one who is more prone to grief, comforts Vassily Ivanych here? How does the fact that they suffer together help them to endure their suffering?

    At that moment the whole of his wasted life stirred within him. (24.165)

    This is a description of Pavel's sensation right after he begs Fenichka to maintain her love for his brother. In what sense does he recognize his life as "wasted"? Is this a moment of poignant suffering for him or is it a moment of happiness? Do you think that it can be both?

    But the blaze of the noonday sun passes and is succeeded by dusk and nightfall, and then the night, with a return to the quiet fold where sleep, sweet sleep, waits for the tormented and the weary... (27.158)

    In what ways is sleep a cure for suffering? In what ways is it just a temporary escape? Do you find this passage affecting? Does it strike you as true?

    Father Alexei performed the last rites over him. When they were anointed him and the holy oil touched his breast one of his eyes opened, and it seemed as though, at the sight of the priest in his vestments, the smoking censer, and the candle burning before the ikon, something like a shudder of horror passed over the death-stricken face. (27.157)

    Why do you think Bazarov recoils in horror? Is he afraid of something? Disgusted? Does his death seem to bring him suffering? What is it about this specific moment that makes him act out?

  • Traditions and Customs

    "Of course I ought to be ashamed," Nikolai Petrovich replied, turning redder and redder.

    "Stop, papa, stop, I implore you!" Arkady exclaimed, smiling affectionately. "What a thing to apologize for!" he thought to himself, and his heart was filled with a feeling of indulgent tenderness for his good, kind father, though mixed with a sense of superiority. "Please don't," he repeated again, unable to resist a conscious enjoyment of his own more emancipated outlook. (3.49)

    Why is Nikolai so embarrassed about his relationship with Fenichka? Why do you think that Arkady is so indulgent with his father? The narrator makes it clear that, to some small extent, Arkady can't help but lord over his father how much more advanced he is in terms of his social thinking. Would it be better if this were not "conscious enjoyment"? Would it be better if Arkady were unaware of the exact reasons for his indulgence?

    "They amaze me, these old romantics!" Bazarov went on. "They stimulate their nervous systems to the point where they completely break down. However, good night. In my room there's an English washstand, but the door won't fasten. Anyhow, that's something to be encouraged – English washstands spell progress." (4.34)

    There's something ironic going on here about how Bazarov speaks. To tease it out, first ask why it is that Bazarov makes fun of romantics? Second, ask why he is so taken with English washstands? Isn't there something a bit irrational and silly about his admiration for washstands? How is this different than the irrationality and silliness that he associates with romantics?

    "I have been left standing while he has forged ahead, and now we cannot understand one another." (10.13)

    Nikolai here laments the fact that he and Arkady will not become more close than they already are since it seems to him that Arkady has, in a sense, surpassed him. Do you think Nikolai is right? In what ways has Arkady forged ahead? Is the way in which one generation surpasses the next somehow built into tradition?

    "They never yield one iota of their rights, and for that reason they respect the rights of others; they demand the fulfillment of obligations due to them, and therefore they fulfill their own obligations to others. The aristocracy has given England her freedom and maintains it for her." (10.43)

    What about England attracts Pavel to it? Why do you think he looks to English customs instead of to Russian ones? Is there any room for revolution or social change in Pavel's view? What does he mean that the aristocracy has "given England her freedom"? Wouldn't it seem to be England who gave the aristocracy their freedom and rights?

    "I am very well aware, for instance, that you are pleased to ridicule my habits, my way of dressing, my punctiliousness, in fact. But those very things proceed from a sense of self-respect, from a sense of duty – yes, sir, of duty. I may live in the country, in the wilds of the country, but I do not let myself go, I respect myself as a human being." (10.45)

    What does Pavel feel a sense of duty to? Does Bazarov lack a sense of duty? Is a sense of duty inherently conservative and opposed to social advance and change? If not, how can a sense of duty be flexible?

    "Civilization is what value, yes, yes, my good sir: its fruits are precious to us. And don't tell me those fruits are of no importance: the meanest penny-a-liner – un barbouilleur , a piano-player who makes five farthings an evening – even they are of more use than you, because they stand for civilization and not crude Mongolian force." (10.104)

    Is Pavel simply speaking as a conservative member of the Russian gentry or is there truth to what he says? Why do you think it is that he opposes civilization to force? Are the two actually opposites? What is the bottom line of Pavel's argument? What is the relationship between personal responsibility and tradition?

    "Perhaps their advantage lies in their having fewer traces of the serf-owning mentality than we have?" (11.2)

    This is Nikolai's rationalization of why, for all their foolishness, the Russian youth still seem to have some edge on their elders. How might Pavel and Nikolai be constrained by the "serf-owning mentality"? Is it possible for them to overcome this mentality? Wouldn't all of their reading seem to help them overcome it?

    Rainbow-coloured dreams occasionally danced before even her eyes, but she breathed more freely when they faded away, and did not regret them. Her imagination certainly ranged beyond the bounds of what is considered permissible by conventional morality; but even then her blood flowed as quietly as ever in her fascinatingly graceful, tranquil body. Sometimes, emerging all warm and languorous from a fragrant bath, she would fall to musing on the futility of life, its sorrow and toil and cruelty... Her soul would be filled with sudden daring and begin to seethe with noble aspirations; but then a draught would blow from a half-open window and Anna Sergeyevna would shrink back into herself, feel plaintive and almost angry, and at that instant the one thing she cared for beyond all others was to get away from that abominable draught. (16.83)

    How does the narrator seem to portray Anna Sergeyevna's actions as being constrained by her place in society? Is she hemmed in by a sense of custom or just of laziness? What might the two have in common? Does the narrator seem to be parodying her here or trying to portray her honestly?

    "I simply can't manage it!" Nikolai Petrovich had exclaimed despairingly more than once. "I can't fight them myself and my principles forbid me to send for the police; yet without the fear of punishment you can do nothing with them." (22.16)

    Do you agree with Nikolai Petrovich here? Does the "fear of punishment" seem to you a natural custom? How has the sudden emancipation of the serfs caused serious problems? How might the reform have been carried out more smoothly, with more respect for tradition?

    "When you first came to stay in my brother's house, and before I denied myself the pleasure of conversing with you, I had occasion to hear you express opinions on many subjects; but, so far as my memory serves, neither in conversation with me nor in my presence was any reference ever made to the subject of single combat or dueling in general. May I inquire what your views are on this subject?" (24.5)

    What seems to be the appeal of dueling to a man like Pavel Petrovich? What do you make of the role of manners in the duel? Is it absurd? Practical? How is Bazarov giving into the tradition that he generally renounces by agreeing to the duel with Pavel Petrovich?

  • Admiration

    "Natural science is his main subject. But he knows everything. Next year he wants to take a degree in medicine." (3.15)

    Do you think that Arkady's description of Bazarov makes it likely that Nikolai will like him or not? Isn't there something sort of absurd about claiming that Bazarov "knows everything"? Wouldn't this make most people defensive? Does Nikolai seem to get defensive?

    "But you haven't seen so much of the world for nothing: you understand people. You see through them with the eye of an eagle." (8.1)

    What seems to be the basis for Nikolai's admiration of his brother? How are these same qualities in part responsible for Pavel's sadness? Does Nikolai seem to be aware of the fact that the admiration is not flowing equally both ways?

    "The present condition of the people requires it," added Arkady pompously. "We are bound to carry out these requirements, we have no right to indulge in the gratification of our personal egoism."

    This last sentence obviously did not please Bazarov: it smacked of philosophy, that is, of romanticism, for Bazarov considered philosophy synonymous with romanticism; but he did not judge it necessary to contradict his young disciple. (10.66-67)

    How does Arkady give himself away? What we mean is, how does he give away the fact that he is not voicing his own opinions but those of another (Bazarov)? How does this bit capture the tense nature of the relationship between Bazarov and his disciple? Is it possible to tell someone what they are required to do without partaking in personal egoism?

    "Well, what do you think of her?" he asked, skipping obsequiously from right to left of them. "Didn't I tell you she was a remarkable personality? If only we had more women like her! She is, in her own way, a highly moral phenomenon."

    "And is that establishment of your dear papa's also a moral phenomenon?" muttered Bazarov, pointing to a vodka-shop which they were passing at that moment. (13.70-71)

    Why do you think Sitnikov describes Madame Kukshin as a "highly moral phenomenon"? Why do you think he expected that Bazarov would like her? What about Bazarov makes him predisposed not to like those he is opposed to admire? Does he have any companions he considers at his level? What about Madame Kukshin in particular made him dislike her?

    Her nose – like most Russian noses – was a trifle thick and her complexion was not translucently clear; but Arkady decided that he had never yet met such a fascinating woman. The sound of her voice haunted his ears; the very folds of her dress seemed to fall differently – more gracefully and amply than on other women – and her every movement was wonderfully flowing and natural. (14.18)

    Arkady's entire perception of Madame Odintsov is colored by the fact that he finds her beautiful. Yet what parts of it seem to be distortions and what parts seem to be true? What is the key thing about Odintsov's appearance that makes Arkady admire her as much as he does?

    "There you have him! A comical old chap with a heart of gold," remarked Bazarov as soon as Vassily Ivanych had gone. "Just as queer a fish as your father, only in a different way. Never stops talking." (20.29)

    Is Bazarov expressing real admiration for his father here? If so, how is this admiration incongruous with the condescending way that he often treats him? Does he sound more like a son appreciating his father or a father appreciating his son?

    "I ought to tell you, I... worship my son! I won't even speak of my good wife – we all know what mothers are! – but I dare not show my feelings in front of him, because he doesn't like it. He is against every kind of demonstration of feeling; many people even find fault with him for such strength of character, and take it for a sign of arrogance or lack of sensibility; but men like him ought not to be judged by any ordinary standards, ought they? For example, others in his place would have been a constant drag on their parents; but he – would you believe it? – from the day he was born he has never taken a penny more than he could help, that is God's truth!" (21.19)

    Vassily Ivanych makes it clear that he often gives Bazarov the benefit of the doubt since he considers him such a great man. Do you think this is justified? To what extent does it seem that Bazarov's conceit is a result of the way his parents cater to his every whim? Are there people who are simply great enough that they deserve to be held by different standards?

    "And I not only worship him, Arkady Nikolayevich, I am proud of him, and the height of my ambition is that some day the following lines will appear in his biography: 'The son of an ordinary army-doctor, who was able, however, to recognize his talents early in life and spared no pains for his education...'" (21.21)

    Do you think that there is any self-pride in Vassily Ivanych's estimation of Bazarov? Does his aspiration seem noble to you? Does it seem any different than the way any parent worships their child?

    "No, my dear brother, enough of worrying about appearances and what people think: we are quiet, elderly folk now; it's high time we laid aside the vanity of the world." (24.181)

    Why do you think Pavel picks this moment to lay aside "the vanity of the world"? Hint: he has a bullet hole in his thigh that may or may not be linked with his vanity and pride. Is he really done worrying about other people think? When was he more concerned? As people grow older do they really stop worrying about what other people think or do they just realize how little they can control it?

    "Katerina Sergeyevna!" began Arkady suddenly. "It may be all the same to you but I should like you to know that I wouldn't exchange you for your sister or for any one else in the world either." (25.79)

    Is Arkady confessing to love or admiration here? Why do you think he leaves out the word love? Why is it that the discussion of Anna Sergeyevna brings this out in him?

  • Cunning and Cleverness

    "Go on, into the water with you, my young philosophers!" (5.11)

    How is it that Bazarov wins the trust of these young boys? How does he get them to help him look for frogs in the swamp? What can we learn about the nature of Bazarov's appeal through his interaction with the boys? Does he seem to be sympathizing with them or making fun of them? Do they seem to know the difference?

    "He has no faith in principles, only in frogs." (5.73)

    This is Pavel's clever dismissal of Bazarov. He is disappointed when Arkady and Nikolai don't pick up on his joke. What do you think makes his quip fall flat in this instance? Does it miss the mark? Is it too aggressive? Too dismissive?

    "A decent chemist is twenty times more useful than any poet." (6.21)

    Bazarov's line is clever, but what is worrisome is that he actually believes it. In what ways is Bazarov in under the power of his own cleverness? Does cleverness seem to be more of a poetic quality or a scientific one?

    On the way home they generally got into an argument in which Arkady was usually worsted, although he was more eloquent than his companion. (10.2)

    If Arkady is more eloquent than Bazarov, why do you think it is that he is generally "worsted"? Does it have something to do with Bazarov's cleverness? Is there a difference between being smart and being clever? If so, what is it?

    "A penny candle, you know, set Moscow on fire." (10.107)

    If we approach Bazarov's quip logically then we begin by asking what is different about the nihilists and the penny candle. Clearly, there is a huge difference. Yet perhaps the quip is only meant to contain a grain of truth. Is there any way for Bazarov to defend his position aside from cleverness? Why does he so often fall back on such clever little retorts?

    She spoke and moved in a free and easy yet at the same time awkward manner; she evidently regarded herself as a good-natured, simple creature, and all the while, whatever she did, it always struck one that it was the opposite of what she wanted to do; everything with her seemed done on purpose, as children say – in other words, nothing was simple and spontaneous. (13.9)

    Here is the narrator's description of Madame Kukshin, which seems to be exactly the opposite of the description we get of Madame Odintsov. Does cleverness always need to seem natural? Why? What is the relationship between cleverness and the appearance of being natural? Do you think naturalness is something Arkady and Bazarov value?

    To Sitnikov the chance to be scathing and express contempt was the most agreeable of sensations; he used to attack women in particular, never suspecting that before many months were over he would be groveling at the feet of his wife merely because she was born a Princess Durdoleosov. (13.44)

    Does the narrator seem to be parodying Sitnikov here? What does Sitnikov have in common with Bazarov? In what ways is Sitnikov nothing but a pale imitation of Bazarov?

    "You know the saying, 'Happiness is where we are not'?" (18.12)

    How does the fact that Bazarov is quoting a well-known quip make it fall flat? Does Bazarov intend for it to fall flat? Does this line come across as cleverness or as a flailing attempt to end a conversation in which he wants to pretend that he has no interest?

    "Slander a man as much as we like, and he will still deserve twenty times worse in reality." (21.102)

    Bazarov's line here is clever, but there seems to be very little truth to it. We know Bazarov is still in a bad mood after having been rejected by Madame Odintsov. What might he be expressing indirectly through this line even if he doesn't even know it? Try to go beyond the idea that he's upset and is in a dark mood.

    "Talking to you is like walking on the edge of a precipice. At first one is frightened then one picks up courage. Do stay." (26.141)

    What do you think it is about talking to Bazarov that makes Anna Sergeyevna feel that she is "walking on the edge of a precipice"? Does it have to do with his intelligence? His wit and cunning? Or do you think that she is hiding something with her clever expression? Does it have to do with their own feelings and relations toward one another?