Study Guide

Fathers and Sons Pride

By Ivan Turgenev


"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?