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In the novel Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev explores the inevitability of man’s integration into society by implementing effectiv structural devices. The parallel trips of the central characters highlight their emotional and intellectual paths and culminate in their seemingly inevitable fusion with society. Similarly, Turgenev’s deft control of Arkady’s and Bazarov’s cyclical journeys to their paternal homes enhances the reality that life is an inescapable force and reinforces the psychological effect of the final integration into the world around them. Additionally, the novel’s pairing of its characters and their eventual shifts in symmetry also compliments the structural climax that is the personages’ unity with the world around them. These elements help take the story out of the realm of the atypical and into the realm of the universal.
The work’s structure may be examined as a series of trips, and each trip as part of a revealing progression. The journeys set off from the Marino estate to town, then from town to Odinstsova’s estate at Nikolskoe, and on to Bazarov’s parental home. From there, via separate visits, Arkady and Bazarov visit both Marino and Nikolskoe again (Knowles 73). All of the personages in the novel suffer to some extent of an identity crisis, but the two most poignant examples are, again, Arkady and Bazarov, and it is important to note that the purpose of the aforementioned trips is to facilitate the unraveling of their characters and allot to each the surprises of discovering newfound personality traits. In turn, the culminations of these physical and ideological paths are their respective unions with society.
Bazarov’s self-deception is the most extreme and his journey towards self-discovery the most tragic, for he represents the power of human reason, but is defeated by passion. Seemingly apropos therefore, is that, though the events that occur during Bazarov’s stay at Marino — his frequent and acerbic disputes with Pavel Petrovich, their eventual duel, his flirting with Fenechka — contribute with their own essence to Bazarov’s physical journey and to his intellectual search for self, the two most invaluable of such events refer to his stay with Odintsova and his untimely death. In Odintsova, Bazarov meets the exception to his empirical views, and it is through her that an aspect of his personality of which he had previously been unaware is revealed to him. In short, “his brief acquaintance with her is the catalyst for a further stage in his journey toward self-knowledge” (Yarmolinsky 202). He discovers himself to be feeble and unable to abstain from the passion that boils within him, incapable of renouncing to the new range of feelings he now finds himself experiencing. Alone in his room at Nikolskoe, the narrator muses, “… love in the ideal, or, as he expressed it, romantic sense, he called lunacy, unpardonable imbecility; he regarded chivalrous sentiments as something of the nature of deformity of disease…but when he [Bazarov] was alone, with indignation he recognized idealism in himself” (Turgenev 107).
The complete breakdown of Barazov’s emotional and mental barriers — set both against himself and Odintsova — occurs when he confesses his love for her and, in almost animalistic fashion, kisses her, “Let me tell you then that I love you like a fool, like a madman” (Turgenev 120). Faced with an unrequited love, however, Bazarov eventually retires to the sanctuary of his parents’ house, and there, at a loss, he experiences his darkest moments of doubt and anger at his own weakness. It is not until his death — and so his fusion with the society that surrounds him — that Bazarov comes to the culmination of his journeys. Not only has he returned to the place of his birth, but he has also gained unparalleled knowledge over the course of two months of travel; now, faced with his final journey into the abyss of death, he comes his final and most poignant realization. On his death bed he whispers, “…I thought too: I’d break down so many things, I wouldn’t die, why should I, there were problems to solve, and I was a giant! And now all the problem for the giant is how die decently,” and then interjects, “I was needed by Russia… No, It’s clear, I wasn’t needed. And who is needed? The shoemaker… the tailor… the butcher” (Turgenev 236). David A. Lowe qualifies this epiphany by saying of Bazarov, “…he had believed himself above all the laws that govern human life; his fatal infection, leading him to summon Odintsova for a last meeting in which he confesses that he is not the “giant” he had imagined himself to be demonstrates that finally he understands the extent of his self-delusion and achieves peace” (Lowe, 167). Bazarov’s journeys have culminated in self-awareness and, even in death, the union with society that accompanies such discoveries.
Arkady’s journeys facilitate his self-knowledge in that they decrease Bazarov’s influence on him. A blatant example of Bazarov’s initial hold over Arkady’s actions is present at the beginning of the novel when Arkady, riding in the carriage next to his father abruptly breaks off in mid-sentence about the beauty of nature, discouraged by Bazarov’s presence from expressing his thoughts. When they reach Marino, the narrator contrastingly remarks, “Bazarov went away, and a sense of great happiness overcame Arkady. Sweet it is to fall asleep in one’s own home” (Turgenev 18). And so, the influence of Bazarov’s presence is portrayed as overwhelming. Arkady — young, insecure, shy — models his personality after his friends’, but it is mostly because of their later journeys together that he comes to find his own character and is free to assimilate into society in the role he desires. David Lowe agrees with this assumption: “Bazarov’s influence temporarily blocks the relationship between Arkady and his father and forestalls his marriage to Katya largely because Bazarov’s attitudes, which Arkady attempts in vain to adopt, prevent the latter from coming to terms with himself and his true nature” (Lowe 163). On his final visit to Katya, Arkady is most visibly emerging from Bazarov’s grasp, and he expresses his love as a new man, one who denies neither feeling nor passion and has come to grasp the mechanisms of life much more wisely. To Katya, he says, ” as before, I want to be useful, I want to devote all my powers to truth; but I no longer look for my ideals where I did; they present themselves to me…much closer to hand. Up until now I did not understand myself.” (Turgenev 211). Finally, in his final parting from Bazarov, Arkady realizes that all his own professed views on Nihilism were mere infatuation with his teacher, and that what he really wanted from life were love, marriage, and the peaceful simplicity of life at the Kirsanov estate. He too, like Bazarov, has reached the final destination of both his physical and emotional paths.
Joe Blair notes that the novel’s framework also implicitly promotes the theme that, “children cannot forever deny their parents’ world, which, for better or worse, represents the mainstream of mankind. Children ultimately return home and, willingly or grudgingly, become reconciled to it… the lives of the fathers become patterns for understanding the lives of the children” (Lowe 162). This cyclical path — one that Turgenev treats as universal — embodies an additional example of the novel’s structural patterns, those that culminate in the characters’ integration into society. Aside from the blatant, almost obtrusive, symbolism of the cyclical return to one’s origins, this particular element of the novel’s structure draws a significant parallel between Arkady and Bazarov. As the novel unravels, Arkady is found to be surprisingly akin to his father in that their lives have followed similar patterns. This assertion is supported by Bazarov’s occasional remarks on the similarities between Arkady and his relatives, and by his and Nikolay Petrovich’s shared qualities: both attended schools in St. Petersburg, both returned home to a more provincial Russia, both fell in love and married, and both eventually run an estate. In addition, once Bazarov’s influence is eliminated, Arkady’s interests in nature, music, art, and love come to resemble much those of the older Kirsanov. This parallelism highlights Arkady’s cyclical journey and is one of the most effective examples of the inescapable onset of man’s integration into the society around him, preferably in joyous, moderately successful terms like Arkady’s. Knowles agrees in his qualification of father and son and their fusion into society: “There is nothing in any way outstanding about either of them; they are both average men of their generation and class… all in all they fit in with the time-honored traditions of thought and behavior expected of them” (Knowles 82).
Turgenev contrasts Bazarov’s and Arkady’s returns to their homes, unsurprisingly, to produce analogous effects. Bazarov is, unlike his “disciple,” very different from his religious, superstitious, emotional and simple-minded family; he is a man of reason. Despite the instances when their differences are clearly expressed — Bazarov’s uncaring attitude towards his doting mother and his father’s somewhat comic attempts to gain his son’s trust and love — Bazarov’s return is essential for the development of the central motif of integration into society. It is only in the place of his origin that Bazarov can dwell on his failure to resist love, on his inability to act like the man he has expressed a sincere desire to be, and it is only once this cyclical return is completed that he can achieve a true understanding of his own persona and, at last, take his place in society. And so, the outspoken Nihilist’s visit to his parents can be seen as an attempt to recapture in the surroundings of his parental abode the stability he has lost, and that which mocks him everywhere else (Knowles 82). It is here that he can reflect as he emphatically states, “I’m thinking life is a happy thing for my parents… [they] are absorbed and don’t trouble themselves about their own nothingness; it doesn’t sicken them… while I… I feel nothing but weariness and anger” (Turgenev 149). In this home, that of his ancestors, Bazarov becomes integrated into society by, ironically and yet somewhat appropriately, leaving it. Additionally, from the onset, Arkady and Bazarov are perceived as a pair, united by their shared socio-political views, and Pavel and Nikolay are grouped as “the elder Kirsanovs.” As the plot unfolds, however, the previous symmetry gives way to a different more balanced, more in tune with society grouping: Nikolay and Fenechka, and Arkady and Katya. Blair agrees, stating, “The principle of composition operating in the novel is the grouping and regrouping of characters… we observe the initial groups of characters dissolve and perceive the formation of new pairs” (Lowe 164).
Though Nikolay’s marriage may be viewed as more socially progressive than his son’s because he is marrying a peasant, it is this overall shift in character grouping that relieves the climactic tension of the novel by integrating a sense of justice and peace. In part due to this reapportionment of personalities, the novel’s structure effectively showcases integration into society as a desirable end; this notion is supported by an epilogue in which all of the characters achieve this goal. Arkady has discovered the life he has really intended to live all along and married Katya; Nikolay Petrovich has managed to stabilize his household, gain the blessing of his ornery brother, and marry the mother of his child; Pavel Petrovich, though not necessarily satiated and joyous, reaches a satisfactory plateau in his life, one in which he is happy to emigrate to Europe and “make some noise in the world”; and Bazarov gains both enlightenment and humility before his death (Turgenev 241). The Kirsanov’s household is qualified thus: “All the others smiled, and also seemed apologetic; they were all a little awkward, a little sorry, and in reality very happy” (Turgenev 238). Even Bazarov seems to have been integrated into society as much as he ever could have been in a Russia that had no place for him in the social fabric of the time (Yarmolinsky 197).
A.V. Knowles believes that, “It could also be argued that both Bazarov and Pavel before their respective ends do achieve and integration of sorts with society inasmuch as both of them give approval to the marriages they had earlier opposed” (Knowles 72). It is through this resolution of conflicts that Pavel Petrovich and Bazarov regularize not only the others’ positions, but also their own. Ivan Turgenev succeeds in illustrating the inescapable need for integration into society in his novel Fathers and Sons. By structurally showcasing the central personages’ paths, simultaneously identifying their cyclical journeys, and changing the symmetry of their contextual grouping, Turgenev highlights the value of unity in family and society, and the characteristic rhythms of human nature.
Knowles, A.V. Ivan Turgenev. Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co., 1988.
Lowe, David A. Critical Essays on Ivan Turgenev. Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co., 1989.
Turgenev, Ivan. Fathers and Sons. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2000.
Yarmolinsky, Avrahm. Turgenev: The Man, His Art, and His Age. New York: Octagon Books, 1977.
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