Study Guide

Fathers and Sons Society and Class

By Ivan Turgenev

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?