&Son(A) Essay, Research Paper
Nihilism in Turgenov’s Fathers and sonsTurgenov s Fathers and Sons has several characters who hold strongviews of the world. Pavel believes that Russia needs structure from suchthings as institution, religion, and class hierarchy. Madame Odintsovviews the world as simple so long as she keeps it systematic and free frominterference. This essay will focus on perhaps the most interesting andcomplex character in Fathers and Sons: Bazarov. Vladimir Nabakov writesthat “Turgenov takes his creature [B] out of a self-imposed pattern andplaces him in the the normal world of chance.” By examining Bazarov thisessay will make this statement more clear to the reader. Using nihilism asa starting point we shall look at Bazarov s views and interpretations ofscience, government and institution. Next we will turn to the issuerelationships. Finally we examine Bazarov s death and the stunning truthsit reveals. These issues combined with the theme of nihilism will provethat chance, or fate is a strong force which cannot easily be negated. Nihilism as a concept is used throughout Fathers and Sons. To gain abetter understanding of the ideas behind this term let s look at whatBazarov says on the subject. “We base our conduct on what we recognize asuseful… the most useful thing we can do is to repudiate and so werepudiate” (123). The base concept of nihilism is to deny or negate, andas we learn later in the same paragraph, to negate everything. With this destruction of everything from science to art there is no building fornihilists, as Bazarov says “That is not our affair” (126). Nihilists viewthe current structure of society as concerned with such trivialties as art and parliamentism while ignoring real life issues such as food,freedom, and equally. Nihilists are aware of these social woes and hencementally deny to recognize any of the present authority or institutionswhich only serve to perpetuate a myth. Bazarov agrees with the statementthat nihilism “confine[s] [oneself] to abuse” (126). “… I don t believe in anything: and what is science science in theabstract? There are sciences as there are trades and professions, butabstract science just doesn t exist” (98). For Bazarov anything that isnot tangible and concrete doesn t exist. Psychology, quantum mechanics,neurochemistry would be scoffed at by Bazarov. It seems peculiar thatBazarov would say, “… nowadays we laugh at medicine in general, andworship no one,” (197) while at the same time he pursues a career as adoctor. The medicine that Bazarov uses deals in the pure sciences , thatis his ideas comes from practice not theory. By looking closer at Bazarovwe discover that his work confirms his nihilistic ideas. To explain, oneonly need look at Bazarov s main focus; the dissection of frogs. Each timehe pokes around the anatomy of a frog he notices they all have similarstructures (heart, liver, intestine s etc). Humans also share a commoninternal anatomy. Abstract concepts like authority, religion or science tonot naturally exist within people and are only made real by others. Bazarov knows this and his studies confirm his rebellious attitude. Bazarov says, “All men are similar, in soul as well as in body … and theso-called moral qualities are the same in all of us” (160). As with general science Bazarov feels nothing towards art. “… Youassume that I have no feeling for art and it is true, I haven t” (159). Art is trivial to Bazarov and accomplishes nothing, therefore he doesn trecognize it. It is the same with nature, “Bazarov was rather indifferentto the beauties of nature” (169). There is a saying, “Beauty is in the eyeof the beholder.” What if the beholder has no eye for beauty? Such is thecase with Bazarov. The point for Bazarov is that aesthetics in art andnature only serve to divert attention from pressing issues such ascorruption in society and structural change. These are what concerns anihilists, not the latest prose from Pushkin or painting from Alexander. Institutions such as education, government and established authority arescorned by Bazarov. “Everyone ought to educate himself” (105). Sinceindoctrination of the established society begins with education, a nihilistshould view education from behind the barrel of a shotgun. Logic is of nouse Bazarov, “You don t need logic, I suppose, to put a piece of bread inyour mouth” (123). The nihilist agenda, that is, the need for tearing downof structure is beyond logic and is as necessary as eating or breathing. In addition Bazarov believes that what is preached by politicians andso-called leaders is itself without logic. “Aristocraticism, liberalism,progress, principles think of it, what a lot of foreign words … anduseless words!” (123). It is easy for Bazarov to give no credence andthus negate the things which government deems important in society. He
sees irrelevance in much of what is said and done by leaders and Bazarovbelieves that real issues are being avoided. “We saw that our clever men,our so-called progressives and reformers never accomplished anything, thatwe were concerning ourselves with alot of nonsense, discussing art,unconscious creative work, parliamentarianism, the bar, and the devil knowswhat, while all the time the real question was getting daily bread to eat… when our industrial enterprises come to grief solely for want of honestman at the top” (126). Bazarov s nihilistic nature is a product of the corruption he sees in isnation. Bazarov could choose to live his life and pretend not to be awareof the evils around him. Instead he chooses to be a destroyer ofstructure, a nihilist in every sense and every thought. He finds himselfin a world which he despises and discovers he must deny everything whichresults from this world. However, Bazarov s self-imposed nihilism, whichgives him the power to negate, is challenged by something we are allsubjects to chance. When Bazarov meets Madame Odintsov we notice distress within our hero. Upto this point Bazarov has maintained his somewhat icy composure and easilypassed the tests of his nihilist convictions. But now, chance dealsBazarov a new hand. By befriending Anna Odintsov Bazarov comes up againstfeelings which he tries desperately to defeat. In the early stages hefeels inspired and this feeling “tortured and maddened him” (169). Later,sometimes unaware, Bazarov has fantasies wherin his lust for Anna O isquite clear. Bazarov finds that despite his strength in other matters heris overwhelmed and consumed by these shameful thoughts. Bazarov would”stamp his feet or grind his teeth and shake his fist at himself” (170). Even after all his teeth grinding and fist shaking, Bazarov cannot seem tocast off his growing passion. “He was breathing heavily; his whole bodytrembled” (182). It is interesting to watch this fight between Bazarov sdeeply held views of nihilism versus (what Bazarov would call) a trivialand ambiguous entity – passionate love. This situation between Bazarov andAnna would have been scoffed at by Bazarov himself, had another been in hisplace. Eventually the “passion struggling in him, violent and painful”(182) is too much for Bazarov to take and he gives into this passionatefury . This proves that even a nihilist, who heeds no authority,institution, or social conventions and follows no rules, cannot negate thepower of love. Life is itself without rules. It is the random, somewhat chaotic natureof life which makes convention attractive. Bazarov sees life for what itis and would rather take his chances with the chaotic , undefined worldthan live by rules, norms and standards imposed by others. Bazarov callsconventional methods of living gliding along the rails . Bazarov lives atthe edge of an abyss and he uses no railing for support. For this reason,Bazarov is a stronger man than most, as he has only himself to turn to. Hesees corruption and scandel in many of the structures and fights to tearthese down. It is hard for Bazarov to do this alone for nihilism is a”bitter, harsh, lonely existence” (271). What is needed is more strong menlike Bazarov to help tear down the institutions. Chance, however findsBazarov in a time which cannot appreciate his ideas. It is too early andthe people have yet to uncover their eyes, and cannot see what issystematically removing their souls. Bazarov s gradual demise is foreshadowed by the peasants when “Bazarov theself-confident did not for a moment, suspect that in their eyes he wasnothing but a buffoon” (276). Bazarov s nihilistic ideas do not seem toreside anywhere but in himself. He seems to realize that Russia is notready to accept his ideas and meets fate with unusual acceptance. WhenBazarov becomes infected with typhus he doesn t stamp his feet or grind histeeth, he merely says, “It s a fortuitous circumstance, and, to tell youthe truth, a very unpleasant one” (281). It s of little use for Bazarov todeceive himself into thinking he can negate fate. “Yes, just try and setdeath aside. It sets you aside, and thats the end of it!” (283). Bazarov,the great nihilist of Russia encounters the strongest negation of all death. Nihilism as an idea has the potential to create alot of change. Byrelinquishing all forms of authority, institution and convention of valueso that subordination, normality, rules and laws no longer exist, wouldcause a radically different perception of social conduct andresponsibility. Bazarov, by being a nihilist, brings this into existence. Negation, however does have its limits. As Bazarov discovers, there aresome things which defy negation. If by chance one falls in love, the swordof negation meets heavy armor. The strength of a nihilist resides in hisor her mind. The action potential is in the strength of conviction tothese principles. But the overall power of ones ability to destroy is inno way a match for the supremacy of fate negation in the form of death.