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Vlad Elkis
MOL 316-101
Dr. Elizabeth Ginzburg
October 5, 2003

                     Bazarov: a lunatic or a visionary?

                                                “And the castle made of sand
                                                         Melts into the sea,

                                                    - James Marshall Hendrix

      Ivan Turgenev’s attempt at creating a new Russian contemporary  “hero”
has yielded a  figure  of  extremely  high  complexity,  contradiction,  and
divergence. This character, a man named Evgeny Bazarov  and  the  enigma  of
his person have fueled  limitless  debates  on  the  true  essence  of  this
figure, as it was intended by  the  author.  As  Socrates  said,  “Amid  the
argumentation, the truth is found”, so let this modest contribution  to  the
seemingly endless discussion of Bazarov bring  us  perhaps  one  small  step
closer to the truth about this mysterious man and his true essence. What  is
Bazarov? Was he doomed to purgation of his theories, or was  he  a  luminary
worthy of respect and credence?
      Evgeny Bazarov was born into a family of a modest  provincial  doctor.
Turgenev provides no information about Bazarov’s life before his arrival  in
Maryino, but it can be guessed that the life of a  less-than-richly  endowed
medical student in St. Petersburg must have involved innumerable  hardships.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment has provided considerable  insight
into the life  of  young  scholars  at  that  time,  and  it  is  more  than
reasonable to suspect that Bazarov’s life was no less of  a  challenge  than
it was for Dostoyevsky’s Rodion Raskolnikov. This  austerity  of  lifestyle,
combined with his dedicated academic  pursuits,  has  made  Bazarov  into  a
strict empiricist, a staunch practician, and a merciless  skeptic.  Personal
experience became his only acceptable form of discovery.  His  actions  were
governed by nothing other than rational reasoning; sentiments  and  passions
were trampled by the ironfisted behemoth of his unyielding intellect.
      Unfortunately, the power of Bazarov’s mind played a rude joke  on  the
young pseudo-philosopher. His refusal  to  acknowledge  any  authority  also
meant his failure to recognize that perhaps he was not the wisest person  in
the world. “When I meet a man who can hold his  own  beside  me,  then  I’ll
change my  opinion  of  myself,”-  says  Bazarov.  Clearly,  he  is  blindly
infatuated with the idea of his own greatness. Pavel Kirsanov  remarks  this
trait in Bazarov’s  character  as  “Satanic  pride”.  Perhaps,  this  super-
egotistic obsession with self-righteousness was  fueled  by  his  companion,
      The young Kirsanov, barely twenty-three years of age,  apparently  had
not yet formed a sound system of  morals  and  values  and  was  drawn  into
discipleship of nihilism primarily by the power of  Bazarov’s  charisma  and
the “freshness” of the nihilists’  ideas,  rather  than  their  sensibility.
Arkady  is  a  person  lacking  character  and  devoid  of  an   independent
intellectual backbone. He constantly needs  someone’s  support  and  Bazarov
just happens to be vivid enough a personality to attract such a simple  life
form as Arkady. Over the course of their friendship, Arkady  breathes  every
word spoken by his sensei, seldom displaying signs of  independent  thought.
He  delightfully  rejects  authority,  but  his  nihilistic  fervor  is  not
sincere;  Arkady  semi-consciously  follows  his  friend,  who  softly   and
ambiguously ridicules him as  a  phony,  for  Bazarov  knows  that  Arkady’s
subscription to nihilism is very strongly contradicted by his demeanor,  and
his frequent displays of feelings and emotions. But  why  does  Bazarov  not
renounce this friendship? Why does he tolerate the company of  Arkady,  this
dim hypocrite, and why does he agree to travel to Maryino? Well,  there  was
no reason not to. As devoted to work and science as Bazarov was, he  saw  no
harm in spending a little time in the mellow and pleasant country estate  of
his young friends’ parent. Moreover, Bazarov yet  again  pursues  a  selfish
motive by agreeing to travel to Maryino:  he  dreads  boredom,  which  would
probably consume him at his true destination, his own parents’ homestead.
      Although it appears to be understandable why such an  intelligent  and
developed  figure  as  Bazarov  would  try  to  avoid  extended  periods  of
exclusive contact with simpler people – they bore him.  But  it  also  seems
that  Bazarov,  in  general,  feels  most  comfortable  around  people   who
inherently have no capability to confront him and question his  maximalistic
slogans.  He  enjoys  the  company  of  the  local  kids  in   Maryino   and
delightfully explains his work in dissecting frogs;  Arkady  is  his  friend
because he is harmless; he even tries  to  seduce  Fenechka,  that  shy  and
timid woman, during his final visit at the Kirsanovs’. One  way  to  explain
these  gravitational  tendencies  is  by  a  hypothesis  that  Bazarov  felt
vulnerable  as  a  nihilist.  The  ordinary  people  around  him  constantly
challenged his ideas,  and  Bazarov’s  two  rudimentary  reactions  were  to
either  withdraw  and  avoid  these  debates,  as  it  usually  was  in  his
encounters with Pavel Kirsanov, or to engage in all-out verbal  melees  with
his attackers, who oftentimes sound more  reasonable  than  the  belligerent
      Bazarov becomes consumed by his own lies. By  so  fiercely  renouncing
authority, principles, and norms, he contradicts himself. According to  him,
poetry is a nothing but  romantic  nonsense,  music  is  a  waste  of  time,
admiration of nature is next to hallucinating. Consumed  by  his  fictitious
theories, Bazarov fails (or refuses) to realize that by arbitrarily  denying
these and other naturally existing attributes of the society and people,  he
disaffirms his own dedication to empiricism. Bazarov’s belief  in  chemistry
attests to the exact opposite of what he  asserts.  Chemistry  is  merely  a
science that examines the interaction between atoms; it does not  write  the
laws of these interactions. Similarly, the world  is  constructed  with  its
principles of interactions between people within the society. Therefore,  by
refusing to recognize the underlying order of the  society  and  becoming  a
nihilist, Bazarov puts  himself  in  danger  of  someday  facing  a  painful
      His relentless struggle against  the  ideals  and  the  idealists  has
transformed his very self into an  idealist.  By  attacking  all  principles
already so solidly embedded in the society, he makes himself  an  author  of
just another set of ideals, values, and principles. “Thou  shalt  not  enjoy
the nature, music, poetry, or love! Thou shalt enjoy  Stoff  und  Kraft  and
chemistry!” is a possible quote relatable to  Bazarov  through  paraphrasing
of his loud claims. But it is  strange  that  such  an  intelligent  man  as
Bazarov could not understand  that  by  depriving  people  of  their  common
sources of enjoyment and happiness, he was sermonizing about a  world  bound
for self-destruction. For it is quite clear that the more  harmless  sources
of happiness every person finds in his or her life,  the  better  and  safer
the world will be for the society as a whole.
      Strongly intoxicated by his own brilliance and  without  understanding
his mistake, Bazarov  found  the  audacity  and  temerity  to  question  and
ridicule the natural order of his society at the time. His quest for  reform
essentially was a trip to the dawn of human race, to the  prehistoric  times
of laissez-faire ethics (or absence thereof) and an attempt to redesign  the
law of the world, the law that constructed itself  over  the  centuries  and
evolved as an environmental force much too  strong  for  a  simple  idealist
like Bazarov to engage.
       “Fathers and Sons” is similar to a Sophoclean tragedy, in  which  the
main  character,  Bazarov,  follows  a  line  that  involves  most  of   the
attributes of a real tragic hero, as outline  in  Greek  drama:  hubris,  an
anagnorisis, and a catharsis. His hubris was the titanic pride and  contempt
for too many of the world’s principles. His unsuccessful  relationship  with
Odintsova, however, forced him to acknowledge the foolishness  of  his  rash
evangelizations. Consistent with his own previous statement  that  “he  will
review his own person when he finds  someone  who  can  face  him”,  Bazarov
experiences  his  anagnorisis  when  he  undergoes  a  radical   change   of
philosophy after all of his nihilistic ideas are put to doubt.  Bazarov  the
Empiricist witnesses empirically the dismantling of  his  longtime  theories
when he falls in love with the first person capable of standing up  to  him,
Anna Odintsova. But tragically, the revelation comes to  Bazarov  only  when
he is on his deathbed, losing grip of his mighty  intellect.  Too  late!  he
acknowledges the truth about his feeble “castle made  of  sand  that  melted
into the sea” when he confessed love to Anna.
      Even after yet another version  of  the  interpretation  of  Bazarov’s
story is presented, it is still  unclear  whether  Bazarov’s  death  was  an
accident or the unshakable nihilist’s deliberate departure  from  the  world
he refused to respect and recognize as his. But what  would  happen  if  the
doctor  whom  Bazarov  was  assisting  during  that  autopsy  did  have  the
antibiotic to save Bazarov from the typhus infection? Would he  abandon  his
audacious nihilistic ideals? The answer, I believe, is  yes.  Bazarovism  is
an  absolutely  unsustainable  school  of  thought  in  human  society,  and
Bazarov’s  own  example  serves  as  solid  evidence   for   that.   Through
extrapolation of Evgeny’s persona  onto  the  background  of  the  twentieth
century, it becomes even clearer that elements like Mr. Bazarov  would  find
themselves dysfunctional and rejected by the society. Moreover,  a  Bazarov-
like person who believes in nothing but the empirical would  be  exposed  to
too many adverse and destructive influences that only our parents’  guidance
can help  avoid:  drugs,  unprotected  sex,  etc.   Therefore,  if  Turgenev
allowed Eugeny to live as an equal member of the  society,  then  just  like
Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov, he, too, would have abandoned his  youthful  rage
and joined the society of reasonable people.


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