"The things they do in that Normal Diet, it's more than a dog's brain can comprehend. Those scoundrels make soup of stinking corned beef, and the poor wretches don't know what they're eating. They come running, gobbling it down, lapping it up."
These words, part of Sharik's internal monologue, are dedicated to contemporary patterns of Russian social life. Here, Bulgakov criticizes the government for its negligence towards the general population, since even the Nutrition Department doesn't care about its own products and services. In its view, the common worker, having no money for decent food, ought to be sated on the garbage that is served at the public catering establishment. Particularly striking is that this reflection is offered to us from a dog's thoughts, since he sees the dish as inappropriate even for animals (which mostly eat waste). By using the dog as an avenue for pointed cultural critique, Bulgakov thus elicits readers' ire regarding the conditions of the proletariat in the country.
"When you look at the eyes, you can't mistake a man, from near or far. Oh, the eyes are an important thing. Like a barometer. You can see everything in them—the man whose soul is dry as dust, the man who'll never kick you in the ribs with the tip of his boot, and the man who is afraid of everything himself."
In this quote by Sharik, we are offered a pithy and compelling summary of how our protagonist quickly comes to understand people from their face and their demeanor. While this sentiment is often echoed in popular culture and outside of this text, its iteration here is particularly significant when considering one of the story's central messages. Sharik here is basically saying that a person's essential nature can be discerned almost immediately, and that any pretense to try and cover such a nature up will be futile. The fact that the Soviet state attempts to mold Sharik into a respectable ideologue once he turns into Polygraph Polygraphovich, then, is further evidence of the Soviet state's dysfunction. Even a dog, says Bulgakov, knows better than to change someone's essential nature.
"[...] Kindness. The only method possible in dealing with living creatures. By terror you cannot get anywhere with an animal, no matter what its stage of development. I've always asserted this, I assert it today, and I shall go on asserting it. They are wrong thinking that terror will help them. No—no, it won't, whatever it's color: white, red, or even brown! Terror completely paralyzes the nervous system."
In this quote, Professor Preobrazhensky explains to Dr. Bormenthal how he was able to lure Sharik into his apartment on the Prechistenka. While the quote begins by offering a reflection on the importance of kindness, it soon makes it central point explicit—that terror will never make a living thing more tractable, whether it be a dog or a person. Of course, this has obvious implications for the Soviet government, whose iron rule was supported by scare tactics and violent repression directed at their citizens. Even the white and red colors in this quote are used in reference to the Bolsheviks (Red) and the Mensheviks (White) whose conflict set the stage for the early years of the Soviet Union. Here too, then, Bulgakov executes his signature stylistic move, making a larger cultural critique through the vehicle of a small, seemingly unrelated claim.
"[...] Don't read any Soviet newspapers before dinner [...] You know, I once carried out thirty tests at my hospital. And what do you think? Patients who read no newspapers felt excellent. But those whom I deliberately compelled to read Pravda lost weight. [...] But that isn't all. They had lowered knee-tap reflex, rotten appetite, a depressed state of mind."
This humorous quote implies that reading Soviet newspapers has a poor overall effect on one's health and outlook. What is being suggested on a deeper level, however, is that the events within the Soviet Union are so depressing as to distress people when the news is read regularly. Especially considering that Russia underwent a major economic collapse at the beginning of the 1920s, this quote then uses Bulgakov's signature satirical style to couch the desperation of Soviet society in a humorous remark.
"Statistics are a dreadful thing."
In this quote, the steady decline of the professor's apartment building is being recounted to Dr. Bormenthal. In particular, Professor Preobrazhensky speaks this line after mentioning that the power in his apartment goes out at least once a month, when it had only previously gone out twice in twenty years. On a surface level, this quote thus serves as yet another instance of the Soviet government's mismanagement of the country. On a deeper level, however, it also more broadly speaks out against the over-rationalization or the objective treatment of certain, human situations. To the repressive Soviet government, each person is merely a statistic, a number, a pawn whose job it is to carry out a designated function within the state. Of course, this goes against everything that the Professor stands for—aesthetic flair, out-of-the-box thinking, and free will.
"It's this: if I begin to sing in chorus in my apartment every evening instead of operating, it will lead to ruin. If coming into the bathroom, I will—forgive the expression—begin to urinate past the toilet bowl, and if Zina and Darya Petrovna do the same, I'll have ruin in my bathroom. Hence the rack and ruin are not in the bathrooms, but in the heads. And consequently, when these clowns begin to shout, "Fight economic ruin!" I must laugh. [...] I swear to you, it's funny! It means that every one of them should whip himself on the head!"
In this quote, Professor Preobrazhensky advances his philosophy on the plights of contemporary Soviet society. The cause of their nation's ruin is not, as the Bolsheviks might argue, economic decadence and the bourgeois conscience, but rather the people who would themselves seek to disrupt the social order in the first place. While such a philosophy reads as conservative and full of resentment for the Marxist revolutionaries of Soviet Russia, it nonetheless showcases the philosophy of the old-money professor and perhaps even Bulgakov himself, who voiced anti-Bolshevik sentiments.
"He who does not hurry manages to get everywhere."
In this quote, Professor Preobrazhensky attests to the value of taking one's time and enjoying life's small pleasures. On a larger level, however, it is possible that the professor's words here are meant to be a kind of counterpoint to the actions he himself takes within the text. Professor Preobrazhensky seeks to hastily find solutions for rejuvenation and healing by studying transplants, but by seeking to advance human evolution in this way, he is stuck with the unhappy result of creating the loutish Polygraph Polygraphovich. In the same way, such a claim by Professor Preobrazhensky may also be a subtle critique of Bolshevism, which in staging a civil war to unseat the Tsarist government and advance society towards communist ends initially had negative effects on the economy and the quality of life in the country.
"You are on the lowest rung of development [...] You are a creature just in the process of formation, with a feeble intellect. All your actions are the actions of an animal. Yet you can make yourself to speak with utterly insufferable impudence in the presence of two people with a university education—to offer advice on a cosmic scale and of equally cosmic stupidity on how to divide everything...And right after gobbling up a box full of tooth powder too..."
In this quote, Professor Preobrazhensky tells off Polygraph Polygraphovich after he suggests that all wealth and property ought to be redistributed fairly. The professor uses ad hominem logic here to attack the former Sharik, using his animal intelligence and origins to debunk his claims about the fairness of socialism. Because such logic is ultimately fallacious, however, this quote thus represents a rare moment in which Bulgakov both levels criticism at the Soviet political establishment (represented as dog-like by comparison to Polygraph Polygraphovich) as well as shows us that certain detractors of Bolshevik logic are just as reactionary, vague, and unprincipled.
"Certainly, it might be possible to graft the hypophysis of Spinoza or some such devil, and turn a dog into a highly advanced human. But what in hell for? Tell me, please, why is it necessary to manufacture Spinozas artificially when any peasant woman can produce them at any time? [...] Doctor, the human race takes care of this by itself, and every year, in the course of its evolution, it creates dozens of outstanding geniuses who adorn the Earth, stubbornly selecting them out of the mass of scum."
In this quote, Professor Preobrazhensky debates the importance of his scientific discovery with Dr. Bormenthal. While Bormenthal argues that the discovery about the formative nature of the hypophysis will change medicine forever, Professor Preobrazhensky argues that such a discovery is insignificant in the first place because nature already provides the world with a steady stream of good, smart people. This quote thus sees Professor Preobrazhensky argue against something like the creation of Polygraph Polygraphovich—and, implicitly, against the government which attempts to reform Polygraph unnaturally into a model citizen. Things will be what they were intended to be by nature, suggests Professor Preobrazhensky and also Bulgakov.
"You mean he spoke? [...] But this does not yet mean being a man."
In this quote, Professor Preobrazhensky explains to officers inquiring after Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov that they are merely inquiring after his dog—who, in any event, is alive and well. In making this pithy and witty statement, however, Professor Preobrazhensky also calls into question what it means to be a true man. Is someone like Shvonder, who in Professor Preobrazhensky's eyes does not stand for anything and merely takes up space, a true man? Is the government that would empower someone like Shvonder and Polygraph Polygraphovich a government for and by the people? In making this claim, Professor Preobrazhensky thus states that he does not think so in either case.
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.