What are the tenets of nihilism in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Nihilism is probably the most dominant theme to come out of Turgenev's work.  It is shown to be a part of the generational gap between the older culture and the younger culture.  Turgenev is extremely skilled at showing an increasing chasm in Russian society and that nihilism is a part of this.  The abandonment of "old world" values and the embrace of a more cold and calculating approach to consciousness is part of this understanding of nihilism.  For example, while the older generation in the novel is shown to love poetry and the elements of life that emphasize feelings and sensuousness, the younger generation is shown to be the opposite, favoring more practicality and more of an approach that favors scientific determinism.  Barzarov's declaration that a "chemist is twenty times more useful than a poet" reflects this nihilism which is also part of a generational shift.  Turgenev argues that this is  where the relationship between older and younger people lie.  Due to the fact that this vision of nihilism presents an incommensurate notion of the good with the values held by the older generation, one of its tenets is that Russian society is being stretched with both sides advocating their notion of the good.  The ending of the narrative is one where nihilism is felt througout life, but rejected in the end for those "old world" values that bring more meaning to life and to one's state of being in the world.  In the end, a poet is more meaningful to articulate the pain that one feels in such a condition.  The chemist lacks the capacity to do so, which is why Turgenev argues that Bazarov will still experience those values that bring meaning even after life.

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