Duel in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons

Ivan Turgenev, a prominent Russian author, is considered a masterful writer on culture and society, noted for showing aspects of society through the depiction of everyday life. Such an art can be observed in his novel Fathers and Sons, written In 1862. As the title suggests, the plot of the novel revolves around Arkady and his father Nikolai, and Arkady’s friend Bazarov and his family. Through these characters and their interactions, Turgenev explores some important aspects of society in Russia in the 1860s, and the changes occurring as the old gives way to the new.

A key episode that Turgenev uses to highlight some of these ideas is the duel between Bazarov and Nikolai’s’ brother Pavel Petrovich. This episode is particularly significant because it acts as a physical symbol for the generational conflict and social tensions that are explored in the novel. The duel also shows the patriarchal attitudes prevailing in the society at that time, and it results in a significant transformation of Pavel’s character and his attitude towards his brother. Perhaps most importantly, through Bazarov’s victory, it suggests the beginning of the dominance of the younger, intellectual generation over the refined but outmoded aristocracy. Pavel represents the older, (although he is still in his forties), cultured class in Russia at that time. The son of a general, he has an ‘elegant and aristocratic cast’ (Turgenev,11) and he holds tradition and principles so strongly that he believes that ‘without principes taken on faith, there’s no taking a step, no breathing’ (Turgenev,17). The use of the French word for ‘principles’ is significant in itself as it shows the attachment to foreign languages and ideas in the upper classes at that time in Russia. In contrast, Bazarov, the son of a provincial doctor, and a nihilist who sees everything from a critical point of view, represents the younger generation.

As Arkady explains, a nihilist ‘…