In terms of Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev, what were Liberal/Radical Russian youth like in the mid-nineteenth century?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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It was typical of fictional writers in the Russia of the nineteenth-century, to present an ideology in their writing which could be interpreted somewhat controversially and Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev is no exception. Turgenev's depiction of Bazarov provoked much criticism and Bazarov, with his revolutionary stance and his beliefs representative of nihilism was, for some, a justified character only because he dies - a passive justice for many. His refusal to accept any other viewpoint and the way he discounts any cultural or artisitic persuasion - " “A good chemist is twenty times as useful as any poet”- makes him extreme.  

Turgenev reveals a growing population of young Russians who want more than social changes such as liberation for the serfs which at the time was imminent. They want political reforms to match their uncompromising beliefs and lack of respect for authority. The aristocracy are, according to Bazarov,"in the habit of being top dog and showing off…” something he has no time for. He is also disdainful of progressive thinkers like Arkady's father, Nikolai, whose concept of reform is far removed from the vision of Bazarov. Nikolai's "farm" and his seemingly enlightened beliefs are not nearly representative of the needs of the people. He questions the older generation's attitude towards the "peasants" and challenges Nikolai and Pavel, who still think themselves superior, to consider "which of us-you or me-he recognizes as his fellow countryman." However, at the same time, he is dismissive of the serfs but "the servants, too, had taken to him, although he made fun of them."

Bazarov is critical of Arkady and any importance he may place on marriage. He is disappointed in Arkady and " I did not expect this from you” reveals the expectation of the same kind of beliefs from Arkady. 

Only scientific principles hold any merit for Bazarov and he is not afraid to make himself understood; “Nature is not a temple, but a work-shop, and man is a worker in it.” He allows himself only one attempt at emotional attachment "contrary to his habit, when he falls for Anna Odintsov and, when she rejects him, he is devastated, perhaps, ironically, exposing a conflicted idealist. The ability to sustain such radical beliefs and live by them is in question by the end. 

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