Study Guide

Fathers and Sons Man and the Natural World

By Ivan Turgenev

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?