Study Guide

The Heart of a Dog

by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Heart of a Dog Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Heart of a Dog is often regarded as science fiction or satirical fantasy. The novella tells the tale of Sharik, a stray dog who has been brought in for experimentation by the scientist Philip Philipovich Preobrazhensky. The experimenter specializes in transplanting the organs of animals into humans and vice versa.

The work moves with a constantly shifting perspective, jumping from the dog’s point of view to Preobrazhensky’s to that of an unseen narrator. It opens with the howling of the dog, who complains that he was scalded when a cook at the National Economic Council’s canteen spilled boiling water on him. Sharik recounts his misfortune to himself. He had been foraging in the garbage outside the council building when the cook threw the water out. The style shows some of what has been called “stream of consciousness,” as the dog thinks about the good life he could have enjoyed, rolling in the park, and about his present misfortune.

A girl finds the injured dog, and, without a break, the narrative slips from the dog’s thoughts to a narrator outside the story. Then it returns to the dog, who sees Preobrazhensky in the street and imagines what the man is thinking. Preobrazhensky puts a leash on the dog and leads him away. Thus, the opening of the story introduces readers to the main characters and the technique of juxtaposing internal monologues and physical descriptions.

The tale continues with Sharik watching the professor, who is seeing patients at his apartment. Sharik bites a man whom Preobrazhensky has been rejuvenating with transplants,...

(The entire section is 656 words.)

The Heart of a Dog Summary (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Heart of a Dog recounts a scientific experiment and its unexpected result. Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Mikhail Bulgakov’s novella describes a creator’s rejection of the creature he brings into existence. Incorporating several narrators as well as elements of fantasy and surrealism, The Heart of a Dog is a sometimes comic, sometimes blackly humorous reminder of the limits of human perfectibility.

The action begins on a snow-swept Moscow street. An injured, starving dog—mistakenly perceived as a cuddly “Sharik” (“Little Ball”) by passers-by—is lured into an apartment by a well-dressed man who offers him sausage. Sharik quickly learns to revere his master, who can provide good food, warm lodging, and medical care.

Sharik’s benefactor is Philip Philippovich Preobrazhensky, a noted surgeon and researcher. Specializing in the rejuvenation of human organs, Philip Philippovich plans to transplant a dead man’s testes and pituitary gland into Sharik. With little hope that the dog will survive, but convinced that the experiment will yield valuable data, Philip Philippovich performs the transplant.

Surprisingly, Sharik survives and flourishes. He rapidly takes on human appearance: He walks erect, fur falls from his body, his mouth makes speech. The dog-man is often caught between worlds, clumsily reacting with a dog’s instincts to social situations which human beings...

(The entire section is 417 words.)