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The Heart of a Dog is intended as a critique of the excesses of the social and political system that developed after the Russian Revolution. On this basis alone, it offered enough fodder for the Soviet censors to ban it. But the satire of The Heart of a Dog is not directed solely at the mishaps and pretension of Soviet science. Instead, the inadvertent transformation of Sharik is a means of addressing the larger issues of what it means to be human and to live responsibly in the society of others. The doctor believes that he has scientifically proven the physical location of human nature when the addition of human sex and growth glands transforms the dog Sharik into a man, but the nature of Sharikov’s behavior is clearly outside Preobrazhensky’s scientific empiricism. Sharikov is a man with the heart of a dog as well as a dog with the heart of a man. He is the worst of each, and the doctor's scientific knowledge does not equip him to reckon with the consequences. The resulting episodes provide ample opportunity for Bulgakov to comment on the workings of society in general and the relatively new Soviet society in particular.
Bulgakov’s social satire works at several levels. Preobrazhensky is an ambitious technocrat in his own home and office but unable to control the physical, civic, or moral consequences of his creation. Sharikov is at once an innocent creature at the mercy of those with power and scientific knowledge and a miscreant citizen of the society into which he has been introduced. Although both the doctor and the dog represent larger elements of the new Soviet nation, both characters live and work with the absurdity and pompousness that Bulgakov found in the bureaucracy he knew. Bulgakov’s mockery of specific details of early Soviet life made him an easy target for censorship. It is in combination with an incisive view of human nature and motivation that the mockery in The Heart of a Dog becomes a strong social and scientific satire.
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