Study Guide

Fathers and Sons Cunning and Cleverness

By Ivan Turgenev

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?