What are the main points of conflict between the world views of the "Fathers" and the "sons" in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Two of the most telling main points of conflict between the world views of the fathers and son in Turgenev's Father and Sons are nihilistic meaninglessness versus meaningful living and revolution versus tradition. While the title of Turgenev's work is also translated into English as Fathers and Children, it is most often agreed that Turgenev is not interested, in this work of fiction, in the conflicts between "fathers" and "children" so much so as he is interested in the conflicts between "fathers" and "son." Had he been interested in "children" of either sex, it appears he would have given more central roles to Katya and Anna instead of giving them limited roles as he did.

Nihilism vs. Meaningfulness

Nihilistic meaninglessness versus meaningful living is illustrated by comments made by Pavel Kirsanov, a high-ranking aristocratic nobleman and brother of Arkady's father Nikolai, after his introduction to Bazarov. He emphasizes the importance of guiding principles in living. He compares a life without guiding principles to being alive in an airless vacuum:

"But we elders view things differently. We folk of the older generation believe that without principles ... without principles it is impossible to take a single step in life, or to draw a single breath. Mais vous avez changé tout cela [But you have changed all that]. God send you health and a general's rank, ... God send you health and a general's rank, but also let us see how you will contrive to exist in an absolute void, an airless vacuum. ... he believes in frogs more than in principles."

Bazarov pronounces on the conflicting idea as representative of sons by explaining that he believes in nothing, not principles, not literature and even science. He means to express the idea that, while there may be individual instances of progressive science, there is not a conceptual reality or a principle of science as a paradigm.

"I have told you that I believe in nothing at all. What after all, is science—that is to say, science in the mass? A science may exist, even as a trade or a profession may exist; but with regard to science in the mass, there is no such thing."

Revolution vs. Tradition

The revolution versus tradition conflict is illustrated by, firstly, by the clothes of Vasili Ivanitch, Bazarov's father: "Clad in an old military tunic of which the front was flying open, ...." Vasili Ivanitch symbolically represents tradition in all its aspects--medical authority, military authority, social authority--that Nihilists such as Bazarov rebel against. The conflict is represented, secondly, by the conversation father and son have about becoming a doctor and what medical authority, if any, holds sway and influence over new medical practice. Of course, for Bazarov, the point is that no medical (or other) authority holds sway.

    "Yes indeed! Nor are we ignorant of Schönlein[6] and Rademacher," [Vasili Ivanitch said].
    "In the province of —— you still believe in Rademacher?" queried Bazarov.
    [...]
    "In the province of —— we still believe in ——? Ah, gentlemen! Hardly could you expect us to move as fast as you do. You find us in a state of transition. ... but now you have replaced Rademacher with a new authority, and are making obeisance to that authority exactly as though in twenty years' time he too will not have fallen into contempt."
    "Let me tell you, for your comforting," said Bazarov, "that we ridicule all medicine, and render obeisance to no one."

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