Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Bulgakov’s obvious satiric targets are the excesses of the Revolution as embodied in Shvonder and Sharikov, as well as in Philip Philippovich’s complaints. The satirist comments on the shortage of housing and the resulting loss of privacy, the bureaucracy’s need to define human existence by documents, and the intrusion of political ideology into everyday life. As one character wonders, “Does Karl Marx forbid rugs on the stairs?”

It is tempting to see the operation as a metaphor for the October Revolution, and Philip Philippovich as an image of its leader, Vladimir Ilich Lenin. Reading the political allegory thus, one appreciates why the novella’s manuscript was refused publication in 1925 and confiscated by the police in 1926. Why should the Soviet authorities appreciate work that interprets the Revolution as an unthinking operation which merged and empowered the criminal, animal instincts of Russia’s uneducated peasant classes?

Yet this interpretation may be too narrow. It emphasizes the negative connotation of the title, that is, that the heart of a dog is lower than the heart of a man. It also ignores Philip Philippovich’s disgust with the Revolution, an odd detail if Philip Philippovich symbolizes Lenin, the Revolution’s architect. An alternate reading suggests that the heart of a dog is a normative value by which other values may be judged and that Philip Philippovich stands for a mindset rather than a historical individual....

(The entire section is 602 words.)