Analysis

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Last Updated on June 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 288

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The central conceit of this satirical novel is the idea of transplanting body parts—primarily from other animals into human beings, but also vice versa—and along with them, related qualities. Specifically, it concerns a dog, Sharik, who receives transplants of glands and sex organs from a human man. On the one hand it may be considered a philosophical meditation on the ethics of medical experimentation; on the other hand it is primarily a humorous political commentary.

Mikhail Bulgakov in fact began his career in the early twentieth century Russian Empire (contemporary Ukraine) studying medicine. While this fictional exploration of scientific morality, both published and censured in 1925, has much in common with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it veers away from earlier Romantic attitudes and toward religion and science. It is more at home with other twentieth century absurdist approaches to essential questions about human nature, such as Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco, that present total man-to-animal transformations.

Set in the Revolution-era Soviet Union, the novel centers on one mad scientist, Philip Philipovich Preobrazhensky, and his physician colleague, Bormenthal, who conduct the experiments on Sharika. The transplant of testicles and the pituitary gland turn Sharik into a man with well-developed socialist sensibilities and a strong critical streak. Although the scientists assume they can control their research subject—much like Victor Frankenstein—Sharik has a mind of his own and embraces the political ideas of his generation.

Now identifying as Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov, he takes it upon himself to uphold revolutionary principles, to the extent of informing the authorities of Philip Philipovich’s counterrevolutionary ideas. The fanaticism of this convert is his downfall, however, as the doctor finally decides he can be safe only by turning Sharik back into a dog.

The Plot

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484

Mikhail Bulgakov completed his satiric novel The Heart of a Dog in 1925, but Soviet government censorship kept it from being published until after his death. The story opens from the canine point of view of a stray mongrel named Sharik that wanders the cold streets of Moscow in search of food and a warm place to sleep. The dog is puzzled by the harsh treatment he receives at the hands of the various shopkeepers from whom he begs scraps. He accepts the cruelty as a matter of course and is, therefore, puzzled when a well-dressed stranger offers him sausages and takes him home to a luxurious apartment.

The stranger is Philip Philippovich Preobrazhensky, a noted surgeon experimenting in organ transplants and sexual rejuvenation operations. Preobrazhensky treats the dog well. When a neighborhood petty criminal dies, the doctor has the opportunity to continue his experimentation. He promptly transplants the testes and pituitary gland of the deceased man into Sharik. The doctor does not make the purpose of the operation clear even to his assistant, Bormenthal. The results stun everyone involved. As Bormenthals log of the experiment records, Sharik’s recovery is the evolution of a dog into a man. Surprisingly, he immediately is able to walk upright and speak, cursing and demanding liquor.

The short, hairy man promptly changes his name from Sharik to the more human Sharikov and adds Polygraph Polygraphovich, a first name and patronymic he reads on a calendar. It becomes clear to the doctor and his assistant that Sharikov retains the worst of the knowledge he picked up on the street both as a dog and as a criminal. He is slothful and petulant, reading Friedrich Engels and spouting revolutionary political aphorisms that the upper-class doctor finds objectionable. All attempts to extract calm, productive behavior from Sharikov leave him nonplussed, as though he cannot imagine any advantage in cooperating with his housemates. When Sharikov assaults the household help, he finds he is utterly unwelcome in the home and abruptly leaves. With the help of an officious bureaucrat he befriends, Sharikov finds a job he enjoys, working as the government-sanctioned director of a project to purge the city of cats.

Sharikov returns, bathed in self-important triumph and the fetid smell of cats, to Preobrazhensky’s home. With him is a young woman whom he has deceived into becoming his secretary. When the doctor and Bormenthal realize the growing extent of his confidence and deception and again attempt to reason with him, Sharikov threatens to kill Bormenthal. In the end, Preobrazhensky finds no other way to rein in the unruly Sharikov and end his cruel and distasteful public behavior except to reverse the original operation. With Bormenthals help, he subdues Sharikov and completes the procedure. The story closes as it opened, from the dogs point of view, as Sharik watches the doctor use his mysterious tubes and dishes to prepare for another experiment.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 48

Goscilo, Helena. “Point of View in Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog,” in Russian Literature Triquarterly. XV (1976), pp. 281-291.

Proffer, Ellendea. Mikhail Bulgakov: Life and Work, 1984.

Rydel, Christine. “Bulgakov and H.G. Wells,” in Russian Literature Triquarterly. XV (1976), pp. 293-311.

Wright, A. Colin. Mikhail Bulgakov: Life and Interpretations, 1978.

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