Q. In his portrayal of the character of Bazarov in Fathers and Sons, do you think Turgenev is being cautious of taking an extreme judgement? Analyse the character of Bazarov and give a reasoned answer. Turgenev by temperament was not a politically minded author. Nature, personal relationships and quality of feeling are the recurrent priorities of his artistic expression.
He detested the conscious use of art for ends extraneous to itself, ideological, didactic, or utilitarian, and especially as a deliberate weapon in the class war as demanded by the radicals of his time. Thus, he was often described as a pure aesthete and a believer in art for art’s sake, and was accused of escapism, a lack of civic sense and an irresponsible self-indulgence at a time when Russian literature was expected to frame the Russian identity amidst a national socio-political crisis in the European context.
Turgenev faithfully described the prominent ‘types’ that he saw around him – the talkers, the idealists, the fighters, the cowards, and the reactionaries – with biting polemical irony, but, as a rule, so scrupulously, with so much understanding for all the overlapping sides of every question, so much unruffled patience, touched only occasionally with undisguised irony or satire that he angered almost everyone at the same time. His portrayal of Bazarov in the novel Fathers and Sons is a perfect case in example. Bazarov was mainly modelled on a Russian doctor whom he met in a train in Russia.
But Bazarov has some of the characteristics of the radical critic Belinsky as well. We can begin our analysis of the character and the way he is portrayed by the author by looking at what Turgenev himself wrote in a letter to a friend: “I knew very well that my attitude toward the character I had introduced was not only honourable and free of prejudice but even sympathetic. ” And it is perhaps this strain of sympathy for Bazarov that makes Turgenev be cautious of taking an extreme judgement on the man per se, even though, by and large, he points out the limitations of his ideology in the novel.
However, since the portrayal of Bazarov is highly layered and objective, he can still be interpreted and judged by readers very differently and not necessarily is a sympathetic way. For example, we can distinguish two sides of Bazarov’s cynicism – an internal and an external one. One is a cynicism of thought and feeling while the other is of manner and expression. An ironic attitude toward emotion of any sort, toward dreaminess, lyrical transports and effusions, is the essence of the internal cynicism. The rude expression of this irony, and a causeless and purposeless harshness in the treatment of others relates to external cynicism.
The first depends on the cast of mind and the general world view and the second is conditioned by purely external conditions of development, the traits of the society in which the subject under consideration lived. Bazarov’s derisive attitude toward the soft-hearted Kirsanov follows from the basic characteristic of the general Bazarov type. His rude clashes with Kirsanov and his uncle arise from his individual traits. Bazarov is not only an empiricist but also an uncouth rowdy, who has known no other life other than the homeless, laborious, sometimes wildly dissipated life of a poor student.
Hence, in the ranks of Bazarov’s admirers there will undoubtedly be those who will be enraptured by his coarse manners, the vestiges of student life, who will imitated these manners, which are, in any case, a shortcoming and not a virtue, who will perhaps even exaggerate his harshness, gracelessness and abruptness. In the ranks of Bazarov’s enemies there will undoubtedly be those who will pay particular attention to these ugly features of his personality and will use them to reproach the general type.
This very fact that the character can be viewed in two distinctly different ways elucidates how Turgenev’s portrayal is objective and carefully non-judgemental. Bazarov involuntarily remains in isolation, and this isolation does not oppress him because he is young and strong and occupied by the seething activity of his thoughts. The process of these thoughts remain in the shadows and there is room for doubting whether Turgenev was in a position to render the description of this process. In order to portray it, he would have to himself become a Bazarov which he did not.
In Fathers and Sons we only see the results at which Bazarov arrived, we see the external side of the phenomenon, that is, we hear what Bazarov says and how he acts and reacts, but we do not find a psychological analysis or coherent compendium of Bazarov’s thoughts, we can only guess what he thought and how he formulated his convictions to himself. By not initiating the reader into the secret of Bazarov’s intellectual life, Turgenev caused bewilderment among the segment of public which is not used to filling in through their own ental efforts what is not stated or written in the works of the writer. The inattentive reader may come to the conclusion that Bazarov has no internal substance and that his entire nihilism consists of an interweaving of daring phrases snatched from the air and not created by independent thought. It is therefore possible to say positively that Turgenev himself does not fully understand his hero, and does not trace the gradual development and maturation of his ideas only because he cannot and does not want to render Bazarov’s thoughts as they would have arisen in his hero’s mind.
However, in spite of this we cannot say that Turgenev takes an extreme judgement on nihilism with respect to this aspect of the portrayal of Bazarov. Turgenev carefully expresses Bazarov’s thoughts in his deeds, in his treatment of people; they shine through and it is not difficult to make them out, if only the reader carefully organizes the facts and is aware of their causes. The description of Bazarov’s death is one of the best passages in Fathers and Sons.
The whole interest and meaning of the novel is contained in the death of Bazarov. If he had turned coward, if he had been untrue to himself, it would have shed a completely different light on his character. Bazarov would have appeared to be an empty braggart from whom it would be impossible to expect fortitude or decisiveness in a time of need and the whole novel would have turned into a slander on the younger generation. However, Turgenev again manages to strike a fine balance of perspectives.
Bazarov did not become abased, and the meaning of the novel emerged as follows : today’ young people become carried away and go to extremes, but this tendency to get carried away points to fresh strength and incorruptible intellect; this strength and this intellect, without any outside assistance or influence, will lead young people on to the right road and will support them in life. Bazarov dies largely because Turgenev does not perceive society to be ready yet for a Bazarov or the ideology of empirical materialism that he stands for.
The fact that he dies of an infection that roots from a scientific endeavour probably indicates Turgenev’s affiliation with traditions and his belief that no society could cope with Bazarovs and his ideology could be dangerous if spread. Therefore, we notice that in the narrative Turgenev puts forth these ideas very cautiously and on the surface Bazarov dies as a hero who has nowhere to turn, nothing to draw breath on, nothing to do with his mighty powers, no one to love with a powerful love. Going by Turgenev’s observations of his society Bazarov has no reason to live and hence he makes us observe how he dies.
Ever since Fathers and Sons was published in 1862 there has been a great debate about what Bazarov was or still is. He is young, bold, intelligent, strong and has thrown off the burden of the past. Yet, one is sure that his hatred of art and culture, of the entire world of liberal values are not being held up for admiration by the author. Therefore, on one hand some readers like Turgenev’s publisher thought there is a concealed approval lurking in the portrayal of Bazarov and the objectivity is a sham under which Turgenev is grovelling under the feet of the young radicals.
On the other hand, critics such as Antonovich accused Turgenev of perpetrating a hideous and disgusting caricature of the young. But keeping in mind all the interpretations of the character as a socio-political and psychological whole one can only say that no extreme judgement is passed by the author, it is the reader’s propaganda that makes him or her think so. Also, one has to add that Turgenev would have had to be rather cautious to maintain this balance in the context of the Russia of his time.