Study Guide

Fathers and Sons Traditions and Customs

By Ivan Turgenev

Traditions and Customs

"Of course I ought to be ashamed," Nikolai Petrovich replied, turning redder and redder.

"Stop, papa, stop, I implore you!" Arkady exclaimed, smiling affectionately. "What a thing to apologize for!" he thought to himself, and his heart was filled with a feeling of indulgent tenderness for his good, kind father, though mixed with a sense of superiority. "Please don't," he repeated again, unable to resist a conscious enjoyment of his own more emancipated outlook. (3.49)

Why is Nikolai so embarrassed about his relationship with Fenichka? Why do you think that Arkady is so indulgent with his father? The narrator makes it clear that, to some small extent, Arkady can't help but lord over his father how much more advanced he is in terms of his social thinking. Would it be better if this were not "conscious enjoyment"? Would it be better if Arkady were unaware of the exact reasons for his indulgence?

"They amaze me, these old romantics!" Bazarov went on. "They stimulate their nervous systems to the point where they completely break down. However, good night. In my room there's an English washstand, but the door won't fasten. Anyhow, that's something to be encouraged – English washstands spell progress." (4.34)

There's something ironic going on here about how Bazarov speaks. To tease it out, first ask why it is that Bazarov makes fun of romantics? Second, ask why he is so taken with English washstands? Isn't there something a bit irrational and silly about his admiration for washstands? How is this different than the irrationality and silliness that he associates with romantics?

"I have been left standing while he has forged ahead, and now we cannot understand one another." (10.13)

Nikolai here laments the fact that he and Arkady will not become more close than they already are since it seems to him that Arkady has, in a sense, surpassed him. Do you think Nikolai is right? In what ways has Arkady forged ahead? Is the way in which one generation surpasses the next somehow built into tradition?

"They never yield one iota of their rights, and for that reason they respect the rights of others; they demand the fulfillment of obligations due to them, and therefore they fulfill their own obligations to others. The aristocracy has given England her freedom and maintains it for her." (10.43)

What about England attracts Pavel to it? Why do you think he looks to English customs instead of to Russian ones? Is there any room for revolution or social change in Pavel's view? What does he mean that the aristocracy has "given England her freedom"? Wouldn't it seem to be England who gave the aristocracy their freedom and rights?

"I am very well aware, for instance, that you are pleased to ridicule my habits, my way of dressing, my punctiliousness, in fact. But those very things proceed from a sense of self-respect, from a sense of duty – yes, sir, of duty. I may live in the country, in the wilds of the country, but I do not let myself go, I respect myself as a human being." (10.45)

What does Pavel feel a sense of duty to? Does Bazarov lack a sense of duty? Is a sense of duty inherently conservative and opposed to social advance and change? If not, how can a sense of duty be flexible?

"Civilization is what value, yes, yes, my good sir: its fruits are precious to us. And don't tell me those fruits are of no importance: the meanest penny-a-liner – un barbouilleur , a piano-player who makes five farthings an evening – even they are of more use than you, because they stand for civilization and not crude Mongolian force." (10.104)

Is Pavel simply speaking as a conservative member of the Russian gentry or is there truth to what he says? Why do you think it is that he opposes civilization to force? Are the two actually opposites? What is the bottom line of Pavel's argument? What is the relationship between personal responsibility and tradition?

"Perhaps their advantage lies in their having fewer traces of the serf-owning mentality than we have?" (11.2)

This is Nikolai's rationalization of why, for all their foolishness, the Russian youth still seem to have some edge on their elders. How might Pavel and Nikolai be constrained by the "serf-owning mentality"? Is it possible for them to overcome this mentality? Wouldn't all of their reading seem to help them overcome it?

Rainbow-coloured dreams occasionally danced before even her eyes, but she breathed more freely when they faded away, and did not regret them. Her imagination certainly ranged beyond the bounds of what is considered permissible by conventional morality; but even then her blood flowed as quietly as ever in her fascinatingly graceful, tranquil body. Sometimes, emerging all warm and languorous from a fragrant bath, she would fall to musing on the futility of life, its sorrow and toil and cruelty... Her soul would be filled with sudden daring and begin to seethe with noble aspirations; but then a draught would blow from a half-open window and Anna Sergeyevna would shrink back into herself, feel plaintive and almost angry, and at that instant the one thing she cared for beyond all others was to get away from that abominable draught. (16.83)

How does the narrator seem to portray Anna Sergeyevna's actions as being constrained by her place in society? Is she hemmed in by a sense of custom or just of laziness? What might the two have in common? Does the narrator seem to be parodying her here or trying to portray her honestly?

"I simply can't manage it!" Nikolai Petrovich had exclaimed despairingly more than once. "I can't fight them myself and my principles forbid me to send for the police; yet without the fear of punishment you can do nothing with them." (22.16)

Do you agree with Nikolai Petrovich here? Does the "fear of punishment" seem to you a natural custom? How has the sudden emancipation of the serfs caused serious problems? How might the reform have been carried out more smoothly, with more respect for tradition?

"When you first came to stay in my brother's house, and before I denied myself the pleasure of conversing with you, I had occasion to hear you express opinions on many subjects; but, so far as my memory serves, neither in conversation with me nor in my presence was any reference ever made to the subject of single combat or dueling in general. May I inquire what your views are on this subject?" (24.5)

What seems to be the appeal of dueling to a man like Pavel Petrovich? What do you make of the role of manners in the duel? Is it absurd? Practical? How is Bazarov giving into the tradition that he generally renounces by agreeing to the duel with Pavel Petrovich?