Themes

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Last Updated on June 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 348

“The Heart of a Dog” is a story by Mikhail Bulgakov. The story is about a wounded stray dog who was found and rescued by Filip Filippovich, who is depicted as a successful surgeon. Later, the doctor operates on the dog, giving it human organs including testicles and a pituitary...

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“The Heart of a Dog” is a story by Mikhail Bulgakov. The story is about a wounded stray dog who was found and rescued by Filip Filippovich, who is depicted as a successful surgeon. Later, the doctor operates on the dog, giving it human organs including testicles and a pituitary gland. The operation turns out to be a mishap as the dog becomes unruly and the professor is compelled to reverse the operation. There are various themes that come out in the story and some of them are discussed below.

Scientific experiment

The story lays emphasis on the operation that was conducted on Sharik. As a result, the dog was given human testicles and a pituitary gland. The operation on the dog was conducted by Dr. Peobrazhensky and his protégé, Dr. Bormenthal. After the operation, the dog starts turning into a primitive human who is named Sharikov. Sharikov turns to be unruly and chaotic but Filip prefers to keep him as opposed to his termination. However, after Sharikov pulls a revolver on him, Dr. Filip decides to conduct another operation to restore the dog into its original nature, which he does successfully. Thus, scientific experimentation comes out as a strong theme in the story.

Love and Care

These are two themes that are clearly depicted in the story. Dr. Filip is depicted as loving and caring towards the stray dog when he offers it some sausage. The doctor goes further to accommodate the dog in his apartment as an extension of his love and care for the dog. Later in the story, Filip is still depicted as loving and caring towards the dog when he warns Bormenthal against causing it any harm despite its unruly behavior. Additionally, Sharikov’s female co-worker is depicted as loving and caring towards him. She cries in pain after Filip explains to her that Sharikov was a result of an experiment that had gone wrong. This breaks the woman’s heart and she painfully cries after learning the truth. This is a clear indication that the woman loved and cared for Sharikov.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 602

Bulgakov’s obvious satiric targets are the excesses of the Revolution as embodied in Shvonder and Sharikov, as well as in Philip Philippovich’s complaints. The satirist comments on the shortage of housing and the resulting loss of privacy, the bureaucracy’s need to define human existence by documents, and the intrusion of political ideology into everyday life. As one character wonders, “Does Karl Marx forbid rugs on the stairs?”

It is tempting to see the operation as a metaphor for the October Revolution, and Philip Philippovich as an image of its leader, Vladimir Ilich Lenin. Reading the political allegory thus, one appreciates why the novella’s manuscript was refused publication in 1925 and confiscated by the police in 1926. Why should the Soviet authorities appreciate work that interprets the Revolution as an unthinking operation which merged and empowered the criminal, animal instincts of Russia’s uneducated peasant classes?

Yet this interpretation may be too narrow. It emphasizes the negative connotation of the title, that is, that the heart of a dog is lower than the heart of a man. It also ignores Philip Philippovich’s disgust with the Revolution, an odd detail if Philip Philippovich symbolizes Lenin, the Revolution’s architect. An alternate reading suggests that the heart of a dog is a normative value by which other values may be judged and that Philip Philippovich stands for a mindset rather than a historical individual.

Sharik’s heart, as readers learn early in the narrative, is full of trust, sympathy for the downtrodden, and contentment with life’s little pleasures: good sausage, warm lodging, and freedom from pain. By his empathy with Moscow’s human poor, Bulgakov suggests that ordinary Russians have similar hearts. If there is a failing with a dog’s heart, it is a dependency upon authority and a gullibility that authority is divinely ordained. Thus Sharik unhesitatingly thinks of Philip Philippovich as a “god” or “god head,” even though he recognizes the tawdry, selfish aspects of the doctor’s life and work.

Since Philip Philippovich prefers life before the Revolution to life after it, he apparently represents a line of nineteenth and twentieth century thinkers and reformers other than simply the archrevolutionary Lenin. From Russia’s victory over Napoleon in 1815 until the Revolution in 1917, Russian intellectuals argued about the best way to lift the mass of the population from the medieval morass of agriculture, autocracy, and serfdom into the modern world of industrialization, representational government, and emancipation. Most reformers linked progress to technological development, believed that culture was subject to laws discoverable through scientific analysis, and assumed that social change would have to be forced upon a population inert from centuries of oppression. Philip Philippovich clearly works in this tradition: He cares little for the welfare of any individual and ignores the psychological or spiritual nature of humanity. Sadly, failure teaches him nothing; he returns immediately to the same path of experimentation. Unlike Victor Frankenstein, Philip Philippovich escapes poetic justice; his monster does not slaughter him for his hubris.

By abstract speculation and reckless experimentation, Philip Philippovich creates a being susceptible to the worst tendencies of the Revolution: ideology, violence, and self-aggrandizement. Thus he continues the line of Russian intelligentsia who, though well-meaning in working for modernity, forgot the important human qualities of their people. Thus Bulgakov appears in a conservative tradition which, though appalled at inequalities and injustices under the czar, or under the Communist Party, is more appalled at the destruction of spiritual values in the Russian character: the good humor, the capacity to suffer, and a simple, instinctual charity which mark the heart of a dog.

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