Ralph Matlaw
Fathers and Sons
They long for a reality—and strive toward it, as former Romantics did toward the ideal. In reality they seek not poetry—that is ludicrous for them—but something grand and meaningful; and that's nonsense: real life is prosaic and should be so. They are unhappy, distorted, and torment themselves with this very distortion as something completely inappropriate to their work. Moreover, their appearance—possible only in Russia, always with a sermonizing or educational aspect-is necessary and useful: they are preachers and prophets in their own way, but complete prophets, contained and defined in themselves. Preaching is an illness, a hunger, a desire; a healthy person cannot be a prophet or even a preacher. Therefore I put something of that romanticism in Bazarov too, but only Pisarev noticed it.
The two problems of youth and anger, or maturity and acceptance, come to a head in Bazarov's involvement with Odintsov, the central episode in the novel, which also serves as a kind of structural dividing line between the political (or social) and the psychological. The discussions of nihilism and contemporary politics, that phase of the battle between the generations dominates the opening of the novel but is practically concluded when Bazarov and Arkady leave Odintsov in Chapter Nineteen. From this point on an opposite movement assumes primary importance: Bazarov's and Arkady's liberation from involvement with theories and the turn toward life itself, that is, toward those people and things in the characters' immediate existence. It entails a shift from scenes and formulations essentially intellectual to others that are more ruminative, inwardly speculative, communicating psychological states and feelings rather than ideas. With it, Bazarov's views and behavior assume a different cast, far more personal, more indicative of his real needs and dissatisfactions. His speeches about necessary reforms now turn into expressions of desire ('I felt such a hatred for this poorest peasant, this Philip or Sidor, for whom I'm to be ready to jump out of my skin, and who won't even thank me for it'), his rigorous materialism into the purely Pascalian speech on man's insignificance as a point in time and space. His brusqueness and former contempt for decorum now are so tempered that he accepts a challenge to a duel, has a frock coat easily accessible as he returns to Odintsov, and practices elaborate politeness as she visits him on his deathbed. The end with Bazarov's disquisition on strength, life, and necessity strike the reader as rather mawkish and hollow, for the words now have if not a false, at least a commonplace ring. Indeed, the great effect of the ending is achieved not through Bazarov's speeches but by communicating the despair of his parents.

In the final analysis Turgenev could neither condemn nor yet wholly redeem Bazarov without falsifying or diminishing the portrait. On the last page of the novel he instead implies the reconciliation of the character with a larger, permanent order of things, expressed in terms of the touchstone and overriding image of the novel—nature. The concluding words '[the flowers] tell us, too, of eternal reconciliation and of life without end' do not at all tend toward mysticism, as Herzen claimed and Turgenev denied, but affirm that 'the passionate, sinning, and rebellious heart' buried beneath the ground has finally come to terms with permanent reality. The passage is secular rather than religious: life is 'without end' not 'eternal'; it is life on earth, not in the hereafter.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.