Bazarov and Kirsanov, two students, travel to Kirsanov’s home to see his father. Bazarov is what you call a nihilist, someone who doesn’t take anything at face value, and Kirsanov is a typical younger man whom is impressed by the eloquent Bazarov. This book was actually the first written account of nihilism, as far as we know. This is also in many ways what is the centre of the plot.
Kiranov’s father and uncle are old aristocrat, though not nobility. While Kirsanov’s father is trying to change things by giving more rights to the workers on his farm and living with a woman outside of wedlock, he and his brother still represent the old Russia. Tradition and values that have stood the test of time. Nihilism, by saying everything should be questioned, by it’s nature has to come in conflict with this world. You can’t value tradition and still question everything. Due to this the invention/use of nihilism is a wonderful tool to talk about changes between generations, which is the theme of the story. While generations coming at odds with one another is not new, and will happen over and over again, nihilism is useful and interesting because everything has to be questioned on principle. It’s not that the young see anything wrong with a certain set of rules or value, it’s almost having rules and values to begin with.
Quite so, formerly we had Hegelists, and now they have become Nihilists, —God send you health and a general’s rank, but also let us see how you will contrive to exist in an absolute void, an airless vacuum. – V
This doesn’t mean that Turgenev is siding with the younger generation and nihilist principle. It almost seems like Turgenev is siding against this idea considering he puts Bazarov in such a negative light. Then again, putting people in a negative light might not mean you don’t like them, it can just mean you’re a Russian author. I think how you interpret Bazarov is the key to how you will interpret the story in general. Yet, Kiranov’s father and uncle do have a conversation about how they are the older generation and are becoming what they once rebelled against.
My brother, there came to me just now a curious reminiscence. It was of a quarrel which once I had with my mother. During the contest she raised a great outcry, and refused to listen to a single word I said; until at length I told her that for her to understand me was impossible, seeing that she and I came of different generations. Of course this angered her yet more, but I thought to myself: ‘What else could I do? The pill must have been a bitter one, but it was necessary that she should swallow it.’ And now our turn is come; now is it for us to be told by our heirs that we come of a different generation from theirs, and must kindly swallow the pill. – X
Though we could see the story in a more pragmatic light. The fall of the nihilist ideal is nothing less but love. There is a sub-plot about how both of these young boys fall in love, and how this goes against their principle of nihilism. At the same time, this might give the book a disservice.
To me, more than anything, this book is about reaching over barriers, whether they are class, education, gender or generation. Nihilism says that everything needs to be questioned, but by always questioning things we might not be able to actually talk and communicate with one another.
“A scourge is not a bad thing in its proper place,” observed Bazarov. “But, seeing that we have reached the last drop of, of——”
“Of what?” said Evdoksia.
“Of champagne, most respected Avdotia Nikitishna—not of your blood.” – XIII