In Turgenev’s Fathers and Children, time is a dividing factor between Arkady, Bazarov, Pavel and Nikolai. Ultimately, it seems to be the strongest theme thus far in the novel in that it is the cause of conflict between the main characters and is a force that the characters identify with. There are many temporal references, both to contrast the “sons” and “fathers” and simply to indicate periods of time that the characters have endured. In the first paragraph we are told that the day is “the twentieth of May 1859”—since Arkady is returning home from school it is clear that the present time is of Arkady’s generation (3). Similarly, each major event we are told of, Nikolai entering school, his wife’s death, the revolutions of 1848 and Arkady’s entrance to school are all mentioned with specific dates. In The Captain’s Daughter and A Hero of Our Time we saw changes occur in the protagonists. In Fathers and Children we see changes occur through the characters and in Russia overall between more traditional values and the nihilist movement of the mid-19th century.
Bazarov and his confidence in nihilism emphasize this gap between his younger generation and that of Nikolai and Pavel. When walking outside with Arkady he says of Nikolai that “…he’s antiquated; his song’s been sung” and continues to lecture Arkady on his father’s interest in Pushkin (36). He exclaims, “just imagine the desire to be a romantic in this day and age!” as if the thought of holding emotional and non-qualitative feelings are no longer possible (36). Rather, Bazarov invests himself in empirical knowledge that he gathers outdoors and through medical observations. His rejection of older traditional values is what separates him from Pavel and Nikolai and is what keeps their generations split.
With this theme, Fathers and Children stands apart from The Captain’s Daughter. The sense of tension and conflict give this novel greater depth than we have seen yet and portray an intimate account of the change between these two generations. It is powerful to see the changes between these ages through the intimate window of these characters. It will be interesting to see how Bazarov’s character evolves by the end of novel and whether Pavel and Nikolai will change from their “antiquarian” customs.