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Bazarov: a lunatic or visionary?

Bazarov: a lunatic or visionary?

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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