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8) To what extent is Bazarov the epitome of what Turgenev described as ‘a superfluous man’?

Evgeny Vasilevich Bazarov is often regarded as ‘a superfluous man’ in Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons. The characters embracing superfluity is considered as a national stereotype in nineteenth-century Russian fiction, reflecting the radical youngsters in the eyes of the older generation like Turgenev in Russian society. The official definition of the term can be divided into both parts: one one hand, being educated, aristocratic and idealistic; and on the other hand, bored, absurd and hopelessly ineffectual1. This can be applied to Bazarov’s most qualities, thus pointing towards that he is the epitome of a superfluous man. It will be analysed in details below of Bazarov’s characterisation, as to interpret the extent of superfluity present in him.

Firstly, Bazarov’s isolated characteristic is significant in relation to the superfluous aspect depicted in him. Bazarov is always seen to be alone, for instance, he is made to be alone in the tarantass, while Arkady and his father Nikolai are siting together (8); or that he spends most of his time in the morning by himself to explore around the neighbourhood and carrying out his experiments. In such sense, Turgenev emphasises Bazarov’s superfluity by drawing him alone, structurally and sociologically (Cornwell 2002:117). Besides being ‘structurally’ alone as seen in the narrative, there is also an underlying meaning of his solitude on the social context. Although he is finely acquainted with a lot of people, his existence is later found to be oblivious. At the beginning of life in Marino, the estate of Arkady’s father, the descriptions of the narrative shows that he is portrayed as a sociable fella who is welcome by everyone: ‘Everyone in the house had grown used to him, his brash manners and his uncomplicated and abrupt remarks.’ (45) For example, the servants were attracted to him, although he used to make fun of them, as they still feel he is part of them instead of being one of the gentry (45), and that they are sad at his departure later (60). However, it is noteworthy that Bazarov is not actually easy-going with people, as seen in his ‘brash manners’. Thus it can be explained that they like him mainly based on his truthfulness, which unlike Pavel, he does not put up a show with hypocritical politeness. Unfortunately, later he found himself a complete loner, as his friendship with Arkady has got into conflict, where at a point they often ‘maintained obstinate silence than before and even seemed angry [with each other].’ (137) and afterwards he seems to experience a sense of emptiness about himself, ‘what my youth is worth to me? I live by myself, quite on my own.’ (145) Then towards the end of his death, he painfully realises that he is not in need in his society, ‘I’m needed by Russia… No, obviously I’m not needed.’ (195) and that people simply ‘will forget’ (194) him. It brings forth his isolation by others, and thus by the society, since the society is the collection of individuals. These examples suggest him being a superfluous man, as he lives an isolated life and that his importance to others seems to be negligent even later by his closest friend Arkady. Secondly, Bazarov possesses qualities which are positive to the society, while lacking certain elements in it which causes him to be superfluous. It is a nice start to have a new voice initiated in the society as well as a liberal predicament, just as Bazarov promotes the new theory of nihilism in the society. In fact, in Turgenev’s times of a society which is distorted by arbitrary bullying and nauseating conformity and obsequiousness (Berlin 1978: 12), he as a nihilist strikes an independent voice in the society. He symbolises freedom, but unfortunately not much progress is being made. He is apparently liberal-minded, of which his ‘complete free-and-easy manner upset [Pavel’s] aristocratic nature’ (25).