A Dog's Heart by Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Originally trained as a doctor, Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov worked for years as a satirist for Russian publications after the consolidation of the USSR, coming into frequent conflict with the authorities for his work. Given how intolerant the Soviets were of criticism, it's not so surprising. The premise of the story is both amusing and outright ridiculous. A scientist, Philip Philipovich, implants spermarys and a human pituitary gland in a dog, that he found on the street. The dog then begins to show changes, and becomes a grotesque, anthropomorphized dog. Chaos ensues, with generous amounts of dark humor added to the mix. Apart from the actual topic itself, the story subtly touches upon different themes, as you'd expect from satire. Some of these themes include the clash between Communist ideals and Tsarist bourgeois propriety, the absurdity of the Soviet system's concept of personal identity and the inadequacies of applied Communism. By creating the character of Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov (the dog&man), Bulgakov then embodies in him the worst characteristics of the Party's 'ideal values' to use him as an example of the neutered individualism and the personal fatalism espoused by the Party. The blissful ignorance that's born when you're sure what you're doing is the right way to do things. The disdain for intellect and etiquette you feel when you're told it's used by people to divide society. The absolute disrespect for other's belongings you feel when the State tells you everything belongs to everyone. Bulgakov's narrative blends rich inner monologue, a less flowery descriptive style, an impish humor, and ironic dialog. Sharikov, the... Dog, is irreverent and juvenile in his rejection of Philipovich's more bourgeois values. Sharikov is incompetent and unmannered and does as he pleases. You feel sorry for and angry at him at the same time, but never does the ridiculousness of it all escape you. What the reader is left with is a well entertaining story.

“Kindness. The only possible method when dealing with a living creature. You'll get nowhere with an animal if you use terror, no matter what its level of development may be. That I have maintained, do maintain and always will maintain. People who think you can use terror are quite wrong. No, no, terror is useless, whatever its colour – white, red or even brown! Terror completely paralyses the nervous system.” /Mikhail Bulgakov
“Nobody should be whipped. Remember that, once and for all. Neither man nor animal can be influenced by anything but suggestion.” /Mikhail Bulgakov
“A dog's spirit dies hard.” /Mikhail Bulgakov
“The whole horror of the situation is that he now has a human heart, not a dog's heart. And about the rottenest heart in all creation!” /Mikhail Bulgakov

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