Characters

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Last Updated on June 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 372

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Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov is a satirical novel that pokes fun at the Russian people and their belief that communism would solve society's problems. Therefore, it's no wonder why the main character of the novel is a mangy mutt who is transformed into a dog-man hybrid by a stuck up scientist who thinks he possesses the know-how to create a superior race.

The story is first told from the point of view of a street dog named Sharik, which is a common name for a dog that means "little ball" in Russian. Sharik has had a hard life but thinks his luck has changed when he is adopted by a gentlemanly doctor by the name of Filip Filippovich Preobrazhensky, whose name is derived from the word for "transformation." This name is fitting since Filipovich is really a scientist who implants poor Sharik with the testicles and pituitary glands of a thief who was killed in a bar brawl with the hopes of creating a superior species of a man. (Does this seem like a good idea to you?)

Instead, Filipovich accidentally creates a vulgar, horny "man with the heart of a dog" who speaks in Russian swear words, steals, smokes, and tries to hump the female servants of the household. In spite of his vices, Sharik is given the silly name "Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov" and a government position working for the Moscow Cleansing Department which enables him to spend his time chasing cats and causing other mayhem. In this way, Sharik represents the poor, working class, or proletariat, as it rose to power under the communist state.

On the contrary, Filipovich is thought to represent the author, Bulkagov, himself who was known to be an open skeptic of communism and its claim to make a new, improved Russia. He is also thought to be modeled after the real-life, western scientist, Serge Voronoff, whom many people foolishly believed could inject people with monkey glands to restore their vitality.

Now, reader, it's your turn to analyze the author's purpose for choosing these characters. Why do you think he chose a dog to represent the working class? Compare these characters and their actions to the characters in other stories you have read.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 578

Professor Philip Philippovich Preobrazhensky

Professor Philip Philippovich Preobrazhensky (fih-LIH-poh-vihch preh-oh-brah-ZHEHN-skee), a sixty-year-old doctor with a pointed goatee and fluffy gray mustache. He examines his privileged patients and conducts research in rejuvenation in his luxurious Moscow residence. A connoisseur with a love for opera, cigars, and other luxuries, he disdains the recently empowered proletariat and repeatedly exerts his influence to protect his apartment from the Kalabukhov house management committee, which wishes him to give up two of his seven rooms. As part of his research, he brings a stray dog into his apartment and cares for it, preparing it for an operation in which a human cadaver’s pituitary gland and testes are transplanted into the canine’s body. After the animal begins to take on the characteristics of a human being, the doctor’s patience is sorely tested by its unruly behavior.

Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov

Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov (SHAH-rih-kov), called Sharik (SHAH-rihk), a pathetic stray dog at the onset of the story. At the mercy of Moscow weather and the generosity of the city’s inhabitants, the perennially embattled two-year-old mutt has managed to decipher store signs in his search for food. As a beneficiary of Professor Preobrazhensky’s kindness, Sharik is pleased to become part of the household but horrified to find himself dragged into the examination room. Within a month of his operation (during which he receives the body parts of Klim Grigorievich Chugunkin, a twenty-five-year-old barfly and thief), he becomes a short, small-headed, continually hungry cigarette smoker able to dress himself and converse. Ill-mannered as well, he briefly disappears from the apartment after being discovered in the female servants’ room. With his rough clothing, low forehead, shaggy eyebrows, and passionate hatred of cats, he registers as a citizen and obtains the position of director of the subsection for purging Moscow of stray animals (especially cats) of the Moscow Communal Property Administration. After returning to the apartment, he again offends his hosts by trying to coerce his typist, Vasnetsova, into moving in with him. A violent battle in the examination room precedes his apparent reversion, under mysterious circumstances, to his former state.

Dr. Ivan Arnoldovich Bormenthal

Dr. Ivan Arnoldovich Bormenthal (AHR-nol-doh-vihch bohr-MEHN-tahl), a charismatic and devoted supporter of his mentor, the professor. After assisting in the first operation on Sharik, he moves into the apartment. Sharing a room with Sharikov, he develops an intense feeling of animosity toward the uncouth upstart.

Darya Petrovna Ivanova

Darya Petrovna Ivanova (peh-TROV-nah ee-VAH-noh-vah), the cook, who sports a powdered nose and fair hair drawn back over her ears. After expelling Sharik from her kitchen, she succumbs to the dog’s ingratiating manner. She nevertheless considers Sharikov to be a plague on the household. Formerly married, she is romantically involved with a fireman and may be infatuated with Bormenthal.

Zinaida (Zina) Prokofievna Bunina

Zinaida (Zina) Prokofievna Bunina (zih-nah-EE-dah proh-KOH-fyehv-nah BEW-nih-nah), the maid and doctor’s assistant, a pretty young woman with a shy disposition. She is especially overwhelmed by Sharikov’s wild behavior.

Shvonder

Shvonder (SHVON-dehr),

Vyazemskaya

Vyazemskaya (VYAH-zehm-skah-yah),

Petrushkin

Petrushkin (peh-TREWSH-kihn), and

Sharovkyan

Sharovkyan (shah-ROV-kyan), members of the house committee. The chairman, Shvonder, a dark man with a shock of thick, curly hair, supplies Sharikov with a volume of Friedrich Engels’ correspondence and helps him secure his job. Vyazemskaya, a woman, is the director of the Cultural Department.

Fyodor

Fyodor (FYOH-dohr), the doorman, who helps to contend with the disruptions within the Kalabukhov house and earns gratuities through his efforts.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 516

Sharik is an appealing mutt. Because the first chapter is told primarily through his eyes, the reader immediately senses that Sharik is a dog undeservedly down on his luck. Though he feels self-pity and curses the plight of dogs in general, he views his situation with humor. He notes that his cold and hungry state is shared by many humans, and he realizes that he is more fortunate than some people. When Philip Philippovich lures him home, Sharik willingly abandons the hard freedom of the streets for the comfortable dependency of the apartment. For Sharik it is natural that a dog be obedient to and fawn over his master. Though Sharik takes a jaundiced view of the activities in the apartment/clinic, he nevertheless considers the professor a superior being, even a god.

Philip Philippovich is singularly dedicated to his research. His dedication puts him at odds with the majority of his fellow citizens, who have embraced the Revolution. For Philip Philippovich the Revolution has destroyed the social amenities and creature comforts which made life refined and genteel. His desire to transcend his time and place is symbolized by his habit of humming lines from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida. The reader’s tendency to sympathize with the professor is tempered by the unsavory nature of his research. He rejuvenates the sexual organs of those who seem more desperate than deserving: The aging roue who longs for the hedonism of his youth; the lonely matron who wants to attract a younger man; the bureaucrat who wants to restore the virginity of a teenager he seduced, before he is arrested or exposed. The goal of Philip Philippovich’s operation on Sharik, to implant the organs of a criminal into a dog, is also unsavory. The description of the procedure is gruesome: The doctor ferociously hacks, drills, and pummels the helpless creature.

The resulting dog-man is the predictable product of a thoughtless operation. Sharikov’s rude, obnoxious behavior soon demonstrates that he no longer possesses the heart of a dog; he now has the heart of a criminal. Though some of his awkward adaptations to society are amusing, Sharikov never gains the reader’s sympathy. He is as unattractive to the reader as to his creator.

Part of Sharikov’s unattractiveness is physical: His body is an unnatural amalgam of species. Another part is psychological, because he takes on the personality and worldview of Shvonder, the young man who heads the housing committee. Shvonder is an ideologue, a committed Communist who unthinkingly accepts the premises of the Revolution, which makes him aggressive, harsh, and confrontational. Shvonder sees the world in opposites: good Reds versus bad Whites, revolutionary versus counterrevolutionary, proletarian versus bourgeois, documented citizen versus undocumented troublemakers.

None of Bulgakov’s characters are full psychological portraits. They are representatives or types, who embody certain social and philosophical positions. After initially establishing the reader’s identification with Sharik, Bulgakov keeps all subsequent characters at arm’s length. Thus distanced, he can make readers laugh with or laugh at them, depending upon his purpose at any point in the text.

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