Doctor Zhivago Themes

Doctor Zhivago Themes

The Effect of Revolution on the Individual

The story of Dr. Zhivago plays out against the backdrop of the larger-than-life historical event of the Russian Revolution. Revolution changes nations, reforms political alliances and can even reposition geographic boundaries and borders. The world is inevitably changed forever as the result of the collapse of a ruling authority and its replacement by another. What rarely gets written about in the history books are how these monumental shifts affect those whose lives probably would played out in much the same way whether they lived out their existence entirely under either government. The only reason their lives becomes tumultuous is because they just happen to get caught in the crosshairs of the revolution itself. Doctor Zhivago presents this reality as thematic background to the main narrative.

Class and Inequality

At the heart of the Bolshevik revolution is the promise of destroying an unfair class system that assigns privilege at birth. The fact that Zhivago enjoys privilege before the revolution as a member of the middle-class and spirals downward due in no small part to suspicion directed toward that former class status by the new order is indicative that the revolutionary ideals did not survive intact into the new government.


The theme of the power of individualism is centered upon the character of Uncle Nikolai placed in opposition to the ideology of Marxism. While the Marxist Bolsheviks fighting for revolution and overthrow of the tsar tout the viability of the collective, Uncle Nikolai remains dubious. And that’s putting it politely. Nikolai is not just firmly convinced that truth can only be found in the individual, but that the result of collectivism is an inevitable slide toward mediocrity in all things.

The Gap between Theory and Practice

Theories on what the revolution will bring are boundless and ideal. This idealism is ultimately situated as illusion as the difficulty that comes with putting these theories into practice becomes a reality bearing little resemblance to the promises made. The novel examines the way that those fully committed to the ideals of theory often allow themselves to be deny reality in the dogged pursuit the illusion can somehow be made real.

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