Last Updated on June 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 253
Heart of a Dog is a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov. The story is set in Moscow and starts in 1924. A cook finds a dog looking through trash for something to eat and scalds the animal with hot water. The dog is then found by a doctor named Phillip Pillipovich, who wins the dog’s trust by feeding it a sausage. Phillip then ironically names the dog “Sharik,” which usually means a purebred dog, even though Sharik is more of a mutt.
The doctor is vocally anti-communist and only gets away with it because the local communists need his medical services. The dog is happy to be an upper-class dog now. The story continues closely following the dog’s point of view as if he were human, before moving back and forth between the doctor’s perspective and that of a narrator.
In your own paper about the book, it’s worth noting that the story is definitely not meant to be taken completely literally in terms of plot. The dog has many human characteristics and talks to people. There are many surreal parts of the story, and the focus is more on satire than realism as events unfold.
The dog becomes more and more human and eventually becomes so communist and unpleasant that the doctor has to turn him back into a dog. The plot itself is meant to be allegorical, attacking the communism and Bolshevism of the time, implying that under those systems, giving out help to people makes them act badly.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 656
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, and the dog sees a woman in whom the doctor promises to transplant monkey ovaries. The dog also watches as Preobrazhensky is visited by a house management committee threatening to install more residents in the doctor’s home. Preobrazhensky overcomes this problem by calling a powerful patient waiting for an operation and threatening to end his practice. The scientist dismisses the committee with sneering comments about the proletariat. In this way, the science-fiction elements of the story are placed alongside elements of Socialist Realism, sardonically portraying the redistribution of homes and rooms in newly socialist Russia, along with the corruption that accompanied these types of social experiments. Bulgakov is calling attention to the clumsy nature of economic and social experimentation in the same scenes in which he presents imaginary scientific experimentation.
Preobrazhensky eats well, and while sharing a meal with a fellow doctor he makes more derisive remarks about the proletariat and socialist ideals. The reader is never entirely sure whether Bulgakov might be agreeing, at least in part, with Preobrazhensky’s sentiments toward the new Russia. When the fellow doctor accuses Preobrazhensky of sounding like a counterrevolutionary, Preobrazhensky shrugs off the accusation and pays his friend for the bite that Sharik has inflicted. Sharik, however, is in for his own surprise. Doctor Bormenthal, Preobrazhensky’s associate, puts a cloth with a strange smell over the dog’s nose, and then the two men lift the animal onto an operating table. In an eerie operation, they replace the dog’s testicles and pituitary gland with those of a deceased man.
After the operation the narrative shifts again, starting as Preobrazhensky’s notes on the operation and then becoming a journal of changes in Sharik, who becomes gradually more human. The former dog begins to speak and then to wear clothes; eventually, his outward appearance is completely human.
As Sharik moves closer toward humanity, he becomes more of a bother to Preobrazhensky. Eventually, the dog becomes not simply human but a human along the lines of Soviet slogans, albeit with some canine traits, such as scratching for fleas. He renames himself Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov and styles himself as an agent of the Moscow Cleansing Department, which has the job of eliminating cats and other small animals. Eventually, Preobrazhensky has to turn his creature back into a dog in order to have any peace.