Nikolai is a romantic middle aged man who adores and desires to relate to his son, Arkady. At one point Nikolai was also university student—young, brilliant, and in love with a beautiful girl. Arkady has just graduated from the university in St. Petersburg, and he brings his nihilist friend, Bazarov, home with him to his father’s estate, Marino, which causes controversy with Arkady’s aristocratic, romantic family.
This is the basic set up for Ivan Turgenev’s classic 19th century Russian novel, Fathers and Sons. Professor Uwarow assigned this novel for his Russian Literature class this semester, and although this book contains many resounding themes, I was struck by one that particularly relates to us as college students, and to most young people.
Fathers and Sons is set in the mid 1800s after the French Revolution during the time of the rise of liberalism and the simultaneous fall of the old aristocratic world. Nikolai grew up as an aristocrat, but his son Arkady is living in a progressive liberal world that challenges the ideas of the past.
This is similar to the context that we live in. I make a generalization here, realizing it doesn’t apply to all of us, but many of us who grew up in the church were raised in a very conservative Christian setting. In college, we learn philosophy, historical perspectives that our high schools never mentioned, theology in a deeper way than we learned in the church, etc. We are challenged here at Providence to think deep and critically, to take nothing for granted.
It’s exciting to gain knowledge that is new to us, that blows our minds. This knowledge sometimes challenges conservatism, or the ideas of our parents or grandparents. This is a beautiful aspect of knowledge, that it is liberating and stimulating. But like Arkady, we sometimes bring our aggressive friend Barzarov home, but in this case, our controversial ideas in a negative way.
When I was a freshman in Dr. Mac’s class, learning about American imperialism for the first time in all my years of taking U.S. history, I came home and shared my knowledge with my parents and some family friends. To put it lightly, I offended some people with my views about the U.S. military, and I started many heated debates with my dad about politics and other topics.
When my Dad, or others, disagreed with me, my reaction was often this: Well, they just haven’t learned what I learned, so they don’t know what they’re talking about. When it came to my mom, who is less obstinately opinionated as my dad, I would try to teach her everything I knew, without really listening to her, or asking her questions. Frankly, I was very arrogant and felt that if only they knew what I knew, they would come to the light. I felt that I had so much to teach my parents.
There is a scene in Fathers and Sons where Bazarov tells Arkady that he needs to tell Nikolai to stop reading stories by Alexander Pushkin (another famous Russian writer), because Pushkin is too romantic, so behind the times. The next time Arkady sees his father reading Pushkin, he walks to his father, pulls the book out of his hand, and replaces it with a book on German philosophy.
When I read this, I was appalled by Arkady. I couldn’t believe that he would treat his father so disrespectfully; he treated him like a child! However, upon reflection, I realized that I am often guilty of the same disrespect toward my parents when they disagree with me, or have not heard of the books, ideas, etc that I refer to in discussions.
I write these confessions to encourage you in your conversations with your parents. Respect their beliefs, and do not talk to them with superiority simply because you may have more knowledge than them in some areas. Perhaps I have read more about the problems with capitalism than my dad or mom, but my dad has been reading about church history nearly my whole life, and my mom knows three languages, has lives in three countries, and can sew better than any profession seamstress that I’ve ever seen. Furthermore, my parents have wisdom that comes with a multitude of life experiences. I’m sure you can say similar statements about your parents.
What I do not want is to discourage discussions with your parents, because we can learn from each other. Rather, I encourage respectful and humble discourse between fathers and sons (parents and college students).Be a good listener, respect the knowledge your parents have, and share your knowledge out of love rather than arrogance. Let’s not be like Arkady toward Nikolai. (Although, Arkady changes throughout the novel, but I won’t spoil it for you. You should read the book.)