I am reading Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov...what are a few themes from the reading?

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rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bulgakov uses science as a way to satirize Soviet society. I think the main question the story poses is about the relationship of ideology to basic human emotions. The following paragraphs detail the themes:

The hubris of science: Philip Philipovich performs his operation on the dog purely out of detached intellectual curiousity. Even though he knows that the dog likely will not survive, his experiment is more important than the dog's life.

People as machines: Philip Philipovich's practice, in which he routinely replaces human organs with animal ones, suggests that humans can be "perfected" by his surgery. This can be understood either as an assertion of his personal genius (he alone is capable of performing these operations, and so is exceptional) or as an attitude of the socialist society in which he lives (which devalues individuality for the greater good).

Social (or biological) determinism: Sharik, once he is transformed into a human, becomes a kind of caricature of the small-minded, petty party officials who preside over Soviet life. Sharik, who was an admirable dog, becomes a not-so-admirable human.

Empathy: The story argues (at least in part) that any social experiment that discounts or precludes the need for people to empathize and care for one another is doomed to failure. 

MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story is a satire on both the Soviet attempt to create a new society by improving human nature, & scientists' attempts to improve on nature or God's creations through experiments. It seems that Bulgakov was trying to both represent a system in which a man with a dog's intelligence could thrive, & also portray a man who could withstand such degradation & maintain his independence. Similar to Frankenstein, one idea is man's connection to & interaction with the natural world, & the way in which knowledge is abused for the sake of "progress." Technology also plays an omportant role in the story. The extensive operations are a commnet on unnecessary procedures, and symbolize humanity's often misguided search for truth. The many medicines and medications throughout serve the same purpose.


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The Heart of a Dog

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