Study Guide

Fathers and Sons Suffering

By Ivan Turgenev


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?