Literary Devices in Fathers and Sons

Narration: The narrator of Fathers and Sons is a third-person omniscient voice, the standard of the 19th-century novel. While the narrator has no personal bearing in the events of the story, it weaves subtly between the external plot and the complex internal landscapes of the characters. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the novel’s narration is the tendency towards occasional maxims. From time to time we are taken aside for brief musings about the nature of time, death, and love. In Turgenev’s hands, these musings delight more than they distract.

Allusion: Much of the conflict in Fathers and Sons is intellectual in nature. Throughout the story, the heated discussions over ideas produce numerous allusions. The ideas at the heart of the story are difficult to grasp without an understanding of the historical figures and movements alluded to by the characters. For example, a single conversation in Chapter X contains references to figures such as Büchner, Pushkin, Raphael, and Elijah, as well as movements such as romanticism and materialism. As wide-ranging as the allusions are, it is necessary to understand them in order to grasp the intellectual differences between Bazarov, Arkady, Nikolai, and Paul.

Tragedy & Comedy: Fathers and Sons is unique in the way it employs both tragedy and comedy. Tragedy is a dramatic structure first articulated by Aristotle. In a tragedy, the protagonist moves through the world hindered by a hamartia, an unseen psychological flaw. The protagonist makes a series of errors as a result of this flaw and spirals into chaos. The protagonist recognizes the hamartia after it is too late and generally dies at the end of the story. An Aristotelian comedy is a dramatic structure which revolves around fortune and romance. The protagonist learns a series of lessons, develops in character and status, and finds a romantic partner by the end of the story. The two main characters of Fathers and Sons, Bazarov and Arkady, follow these two separate dramatic paths.

Literary Devices Examples in Fathers and Sons:

Chapter I 1

"the reader may care to become better acquainted with his personality..."   (Chapter I)

Turgenev, as the narrator, inserts his own voice into this passage. This creates a less formal, almost storytelling aspect to the tale by showing readers that important information will be given at appropriate times to maintain interest and fully flesh out characters.

"ringing strains..."   (Chapter III)

In this context, the word “strain” refers to a passage of music. Thus the phrase “ringing strains” imagines the larks’ singing as music reverberating over the landscape. This is a projection of Arkady’s romantic imagination on the scene. This is an example of the pathetic fallacy, a device in which the world is perceived in terms of human values and qualities.

""Why is he making these excuses?"..."   (Chapter III)

While the quotation marks make this look like dialogue, context is important to understand that this question is thought and not said aloud. Turgenev uses a third-person omniscient point of view, and so readers are privy to the internal thoughts and feelings of characters. Here, we can see Arkady’s mixed reaction to his father’s self-reproach: he is both concerned for his father and feels a sense of having grown up.

"the girl Thenichka..."   (Chapter IV)

It becomes clear at the end of the chapter that the girl whose face appeared for a moment behind a door at the chapter’s start is the servant Thenichka. Turgenev structures the chapter to create an arc of suspense. A small mystery is introduced at the beginning of the chapter and resolved at the end. This resolution is short-lived, however, for we are immediately introduced to a related, though much larger, mystery: the sleeping infant whom Thenichka watches.

"Finally, seated on a chest..."   (Chapter IV)

This passage represents a moment in which the narration draws attention to its own mechanisms. While the narrator tends to track a single scene, here he concludes the chapter by moving through the rooms of Marino, showing the characters in their various states of reflection. There is a peculiar, collage-like quality to this passage.

"Whither his thoughts were wandering God only knows..."   (Chapter IV)

Turgenev’s narrator does not provide us with the inner thoughts of Paul Petrovich in this passage. We’ve previously been allowed access into the thoughts of Arkady, so it is a little unclear why the narrator is not consistent with his point of view here, beyond a simple tactic to try and create a sense of anxiety or apprehension to fuel the plot.

"(the face of a young woman peered at them for a moment from behind a door)..."   (Chapter IV)

This parenthetical statement provides evidence for Turgenev’s omniscient, third-person narrative point of view. It is unclear whether or not the three gentlemen notice the young woman, so readers are left with the impression that Turgenev wants them to know that this young woman is watching the men from a distance. This adds a little tension to the scene since readers are unclear why this woman would be behaving this way.

"Yet those apprehensions cannot have been deeply rooted, as was proved by the fact that, for all the beating of his heart, the colour had not left his face...."   (Chapter V)

This passage reveals the searching nature of the narrative voice in its attempts to draw meaning from surface details. With his heart pounding, Nikolai is nervous about the thought of Arkady meeting Thenichka and discovering his infant brother. At the same time, his normal complexion reveals his resilience.

"And Arkady related the story to be found in the following chapter...."   (Chapter VI)

This sentence marks a peculiar moment in the narration. The narrative voice is aware of the novelistic structure in which it resides, and it mentions the existence of the “following chapter.” This level of self-awareness is a mark of modern fiction and art.

""Admit that your friend has beautiful manners!"..."   (Chapter VI)

In an usual act of narration, the narrator imagines what Paul might say aloud to Arkady were he to voice his thoughts. Paul wants Arkady to acknowledge Bazarov’s rudeness, if not his intellectual misguidance. This intimated thought is imagined as ironic.

"Princess R...."   (Chapter VII)

It is not entirely clear why Arkady refers to Princess R. by her initial rather than her full name. Perhaps Paul never told Arkady the princess’s name. Perhaps Arkady wishes to preserve the princess’s anonymity. Perhaps Turgenev chose to underscore the princess’s mysterious nature by withholding her name from the reader.