Heart of a Dog

Heart of a Dog Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Discuss the book's genre. Does it fit exclusively within one genre, or does it blend elements of multiple genres? Explain.

    The novel is such an aesthetic and narrative success because of its tendency to flit between or incorporate elements of multiple genres, specifically satire and science fiction. By adding in the science fiction element of Sharik's transformation, Bulgakov is even more pointedly able to execute his satirical critique of the Soviet state by expounding on how the government might respond to the product of such an experiment. In showing how Polygraph Polygraphovich is, despite his literal poor breeding and bad attitude, accepted by the government, promoted to a high position within the government, and gainfully employed to kill cats and chase after them just as a dog might, Bulgakov endeavors to even more pointedly call out the inconsistencies in the contemporary systems of government. At the same time, however, just as the scientific elements in the text allow Bulgakov to critique the government through the vehicle of Sharik, we must also understand that such details are meant to also indict the professor himself, though he is a more sympathetic character. Were the professor not taking advantage of science in such a blatant and central way to manipulate and corrupt nature, we as readers would likely be more willing to unquestioningly buy into his bourgeois and elitist logic; moreover, the fact that Sharik is such a bad representative of Bolshevism would all but seem to guarantee this. The fact that he does, then, ultimately reverse the procedure and come to realize its faults speaks volumes about Bulgakov's investment in debunking the wholesale acceptance of new technologies for wayward, "progressive" purposes.

  2. 2

    Describe the conflict between Professor Preobrazhensky and Shvonder. What forces intervene in their conflict, and how does it ultimately play out?

    Professor Preobrazhensky and Shvonder represent two ideological extremes that coexisted in early Soviet Russia. On the one hand, we have the professor, who serves as a living embodiment of Tsarist, aristocratic logic and manners, and on the other hand, we have Shvonder, whose entire identity is constructed around his allegiance to the socialist, Soviet ideals of revolution, reform, and equality. While Shvonder recognizes the greediness and haughtiness in the professor and wants to execute the wishes of the government by consolidating his property and redistributing it, the professor refuses to acquiesce and is in fact guarded by agents of the government that Shvonder willingly supports. This key irony dominates each attempt by Shvonder to take the professor down a peg. When Shvonder befriends Polygraph and attempts to inform with him against the professor, for example, a friend and patient of the professor's within the government catches wind and warns him. This constant betrayal by the government Shvonder so adores is the reason that the conflict between himself and the professor ends with the professor once again getting a leg up and transforming Sharik to dispel accusations of murder.

  3. 3

    What are some specific aspects of Soviet governance lampooned by Bulgakov in the novel?

    While the novel is all about the failures of the government in general, there are many specific examples of Russian life and governance that are disparaged by Bulgakov in the text. In Sharik's commentary on the typist in Chapter 1, for example, we see Bulgakov's biting critique of the Soviet diet and the public cafeterias that serve subpar food. In the protection of the professor by agents of the government, we see the Soviet state's corruption. In the professor's commentary on reading Pravda and how it makes patients have poorer health outcomes, we see the satirization of economic ruin and failure. In the press' publication of Dr. Bormenthal's photo, we see the ruthlessness of gossip and rumor under the Soviet regime. In the name choice of Polygraph Polygraphovich, we see a satirization of new naming conventions popular after the Russian Revolution. There are many specific examples that one may draw from to support an answer to this question, but it is important to remember that the book is not just a series of vague criticisms levied at the Russian regime, but rather a conglomeration of various specific insults put together with a general disdain for Bolshevism. The well-rounded nature of Bulgakov's attacks on the government is one reason that the novel succeeds so well as a satire.

  4. 4

    How is irony reflected in the narrative structure of the novel's conclusion?

    Irony runs throughout every chapter of the book, but there are some specific moments in which Bulgakov allows irony to seep into the actual manner in which the story is relayed. Most important among these is the break between Chapter 9 and the Epilogue. By ending Chapter 9 with a strong implication that Sharik/Polygraph has been killed by the Professor and Dr. Bormenthal, and moreover, by framing the last section of the text as an "Epilogue" to what preceded, we are strongly led to believe that we have seen the end of Sharik by the end of Chapter 9. As we soon find out in the Epilogue, however, this is not the case; moreover, it is only after the inquest of the police that Professor Preobrazhensky is made to produce Sharik and prove to readers for the first time that he is still alive. We are put directly in the position of someone who has heard the rumors around town, and we are just as unaware of Sharik's true fate as the characters in the novel who inquire after him. This move is very skillful on Bulgakov's part and reflects a deep mastery of the technique of irony—by relegating Sharik's survival to what is essentially a footnote on the preceding text, we are duped into believing more firmly that perhaps he is actually dead.

  5. 5

    In what ways are names framed as particularly important in the text?

    In the text, names take on a unique significance in helping to foreground the novel's satirical themes. In general, for example, it is disagreement over how to address another (i.e., either using a patronymic or more casual forms of address) that lead to several blowups between the Professor and Polygraph Polygraphovich. These disputes then serve as the inroad into deeper satirical and critical attacks made by either party into the essential qualities of the other. At the same time, however, there are many specific instances of names in the text that clue us toward the novel's humorous tone and affect. Professor Preobrazhensky's name, as we have seen, is in itself a clever foreshadowing that playfully invites readers to consider the procedure performed on Sharik as an inevitability. The name of the man whose organs are donated to Sharik is an obtuse reference to Stalin, and the qualities of this man, Klim Chugunkin, are thus a denigration of the Soviet leader. Finally, Polygraph Polygraphovich's name not only references a tradition of absurd double names in Russian literature, but it also satirizes the character of the human Sharik by perhaps implying that he picked a calendar name, rather than a legitimate name associated with a specific name day. Thus, names are one of the key means by which Bulgakov plays with language and adds satiric weight to the novel.