Bazarov: a lunatic or visionary?

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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, Arkady.

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 nihilist.