When Professor Preobrazhensky enters his apartment with Sharik, he asks Zina to lead Sharik into an examination room. As they walk towards the room, Bulgakov provides us with this description: "They came into a narrow, dimly lit hallway, passed one lacquered door, walked to the end, turned left, and found themselves in a dark little room which the dog immediately disliked for its ominous smell. The darkness clicked and turned into a blinding daylight, and he was dazzled by the glitter, shine, and whiteness all around" (14). Inevitably, such a scene leads Sharik to conclude, "They've tricked me into a dog hospital" (14). This imagery is unique and notable in its powerful evocation of a hospital scene using nothing but the images of light and a nondescript, portentous "smell." It is also important for the way in which it thematically works with the actions which are to follow in the plot. Specifically, while a hospital is a place of restoration where science is used to heal a being, Professor Preobrazhensky's examination room is a site where science is used to corrupt the very essence of that being. Sharik's initial assumption about the nature of the examination room is thus wrong in a key way.
The Aesthetics of Poverty
In one of his first appearances as a human being, Polygraph Polygraphovich is described as having the following appearance:
Bits of straw clung to his jacket, ripped open under the left arm; the tight striped trousers were torn on the right knee and spotted with lilac paint on the left. Around his neck, the man wore a poisonously blue tie with a fake ruby pin. The color of the tie was so garish that, even when he closed his weary eyes from time to time, Philip Philippovich saw in the total dark, now on the wall and now on the ceiling, a flaming torch with a blue corona. (68)
Such a description is striking because it is replete with evidence of Polygraph's relative poverty and bad taste. It is an indictment of his character before we ever see as readers what kind of person he turns out to be. This deployment of imagery, then, might be considered an effective use of foreshadowing insofar as it cues us that Polygraph will not be a trustworthy or upright gentleman. Moreover, it advances Bulgakov's own indictment of Bolshevik ideology, since Polygraph will go on to stand in as the text's central example of a wayward and corrupt individual that the State nonetheless goes out of its way to uplift and serve.
The Procedure and the Grotesque
The latter part of Chapter 4 is replete with details of the procedure that Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal perform on Sharik. These details include lengthy descriptions of the incisions made on the dog, the process of removing his meninges, the process of trepanning his skull, and so on. This demonstrates Bulgakov’s mastery of the grotesque—that is, the deployment of comically distorted, disgusting, and ugly details for narrative effect. Here, the deployment of grotesque imagery not only advances the text as a relic of the fantastic—sort of like a fairytale or piece of science fiction—but it also firmly roots the text in the realm of satire, since the exaggerated grossness of scenes such as this must necessarily be taken to have comic effect in the context of the larger work.
As canine Sharik becomes accustomed to his new home with Professor Preobrazhensky, he finds ways to get close with both Zina and the apartment's chef, Darya Petrovna. Though Darya initially does not like Sharik, he nonetheless chances things time and again in order to peer into the kitchen, which he thinks of in the following way:
The whole apartment wasn't worth two spans of Darya's kingdom. Every day the stove, black on top and faced with tile, roared and stormed with flames. The oven crackled. In the shafts of scarlet light, Darya Petrovna's face burned with eternal fiery torment and unquenched passion. Her glossy face dripped fat. In her fair hair, fashionably drawn over the ears and formed into a basket in the back, shone twenty-two fake diamonds. Golden saucepans gleamed on hooks along the walls. The entire kitchen clattered with odors, gurgled and hissed with covered pots. (43)
This sequence of images is an outright sensory onslaught—we are told of the scents, sights, and sounds of the kitchen with strong attention to even the finest details. This reinforces the appeal of a kitchen—a site of very basic and animalistic pleasure—to Sharik. Moreover, however, it makes us as readers understand the extent of the decadence that Professor Preobrazhensky lives within. We are meant to take it all in and appreciate it, but especially considering the presence of details like Darya's face dripping and the roaring of flames, we are meant to also understand the image as partly grotesque, questioning the value, desirability, and virtue of such extravagances.
Heart of a Dog Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Heart of a Dog is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.