Immunity to Nihilism in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons
Whenever reform or revolution is possible, it is because a new, progressive ideal has been quickly and widely perpetuated among the people of a particular nation. It is often a country's youth population that most readily accepts such new ideals, since they, being in the process of education and the development of their personal beliefs, tend to be malleable to new ideas and standards, and ready for change and development. The older generation is thus an opponent to change, or at least, not passionately motivated towards any revolution, being older and accustomed to certain ways of life. Ivan Turgenev's novel Fathers and Sons, presents this very dichotomy; he places two generations face to face, and forces them to encounter Bazarov, a very influential character with revolutionary ideas. Perhaps the most interesting result of this is seeing which characters, or which members of a generation, are won over by his ideas and join his side. By the end of the novel, one notes that, just as in the beginning, Bazarov remains the only true nihilist; none of the people with whom he has come into contact have been moved deeply enough by his teachings to join him as a nihilist.
Evgeny Vasilevich Bazarov claims that he is a nihilist, a person who believes in no principles, but rather in logic and science. As a nihilist, he saw that somehow society was wrong, and the only way to correct that was to reject commonly accepted views and belief systems, to reject the government, religion and social standards, in order to be able to start anew and build a more ideal society. On page 40, he is referred to as a `denouncer', for example. Superficially, this was easy to accept for young, idealistic people who wanted change; Bazarov wanted something better and believed that science would accomplish this. Alternatively, due to his rejection of societal values and standards, he appeared cold, rude and without manners, which caused older, more traditional people to dislike him. As expected, his most important disciple was his friend Arkady Nikolaivich, a fellow student, and his opposition was the older generation, the fathers.
Beginning with those who are least obviously influenced by Bazarov's nihilism, one must first look at the fathers, in this case, Nikolai and Pavel Petrovich. They are landowning aristocrats of the elder generation with a comfortable lifestyle. Because of this comfort, they feel no immediate need for change in society, although Nikolai Petrovich demonstrated that he is a liberal man by freeing his serfs so...