The Great Reforms of the 1860's generated an era of social and economic turmoil in Russia. These unstable times spawned the growth of a radical intellectual group known as, the intellegencia. These new reformers or radicals were the sons and daughters of the heads of Russia. They wished to sweep away the assumptions of the romantic generation of the 1840's that "refused to accept the supremacy of reason over emotion" (Kishlanksy, Geary and O'Brien: 755) and any other non-scientifically proven truths of social, political, emotional and spiritual life in Russia. They rejected all common assumptions about serfdom, the foundations of Russian hierarchy, and its reform, including all of its social and economic ramifications. Turgenev's novel "Fathers and Sons", successfully identifies these diverse views (Romanticism vs. Realism) on reforming Russia through the depiction of its characters. Turgenev represents a contrast of old generation of liberal/conservative romantics, through the portrayals of Nicholas and Paul Kirsanov and the new radical, nihilist generation through Basarov.
Turgenev demonstrates the tension and difference in beliefs between the two generations early in the novel with the return of Arcady and the introduction of his nihilist mentor Bazarov. Within one of the first encounters between Bazarov and the Kirsanov brothers, Bazarov begins verbally assessing the differences between the generations. "He's archaic!" (Turgenev: 24) Bazarov exclaims of Paul Petrovich's pretentious demeanor and dress. "But your father's fine. A pity he has a weakness for reciting verse; it's unlikely that he understands much about estate management, but he must be a kindhearted man…. They simply amaze me these o...
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...#8230; But it's essential to construct as well." Bazarov responded, "That is not our affair… First, we must make a clean sweep." (Turgenev: 56) Both movements were advocates of change, the differentiation comes in the methods utilized to initiate the results. Early reformers were advocates of a moderate conventional change, nihilists on the other hand believed change was validated by taking radical risks often by unconventional measures.
In conclusion, these characters represent three of the different sectors of Russian society at the time, a time when society as a whole was under going a major upheaval. Their society can no longer fully and confidently support either of the factions, therefore they attempt to define their own existence and are unwilling to compromise their beliefs. Essentially, they are a product of their unstable and fickle society.
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