Heart of a Dog

Heart of a Dog Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3–4


Chapter 3

Chapter 3 picks up where Chapter 2 left off—that is, with Zina serving a luxurious dinner to Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal. Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal begin to talk about a variety of subjects, most of which have a bourgeois or counterrevolutionary tint, thanks to Professor Preobrazhensky. The professor talks, for example, about how lucky he and Dr. Bormenthal are to be able to dine, post-revolution, on soup and wine. He talks about how reading Pravda before appointments gave his patients anxiety and made them lose weight.

Most lengthily, however, he talks about how the revolution has significantly worsened the living conditions in Moscow. Professor Preobrazhensky mentions that the electricity is spottier than ever, that many pairs of his galoshes have been stolen, and that the general appearance of the apartment building has worsened. He even goes so far as to say that the revolution is like someone urinating past the toilet, then decrying the lack of hygiene in a bathroom—that is to say, the very disruption of order brought on by the revolution has caused the problems that revolutionaries seek to address.

Dr. Bormenthal tells the professor that he is speaking in a counterrevolutionary way, but the professor rebuffs him and claims that the word "counterrevolutionary" is so vague as to be meaningless. He then pays Dr. Bormenthal for his help and company, allowing him to go out for the evening. Sharik then retires to Professor Preobrazhensky's office with his new master, and notices how dignified he appears in his chair. Sharik feels very lucky to have been taken in by such a man of status and honor, and wonders what in his breed or composition could have warranted such a lucky stroke of fate. A week passes, and Sharik is well-fed and well-tended to. When he tears apart the Professor's taxidermy owl, however, he is punished and given a luxurious collar by Zina. She begins to take Sharik on walks, during which he sizes up stray animals and flaunts his privilege, and Sharik also begins to insinuate himself closer and closer to Darya Petrovna, the professor's cook. As the chapter ends, Sharik sits with the professor in his office, nicely settled into the rhythms and luxuries of domestic life in his new Prechistenka apartment.

Chapter 4

The domestic bliss of Chapter 3 does not last long, however. Sharik wakes with a negative anticipatory feeling, and soon after, Dr. Bormenthal calls Professor Preobrazhensky to say he has acquired an important item. When Dr. Bormenthal arrives with a foul-smelling suitcase after a hurried dinner, things only get stranger and more ominous for Sharik. He is kept from food and locked up in the bathroom for a 15-minute period, during which he remembers a particularly lovely and free moment from his youth.

He tries desperately to escape from the bathroom by flinging himself against the door, but just at the height of his torment, Zina appears and leads him into the examination room by the collar. Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal are standing by, wearing surgical cowls and smelling foul, which worries Sharik. His collar is removed, and Dr. Bormenthal puts him to sleep once more with an anesthetic on a rag.

The first-person narration of Sharik then abruptly breaks off here. What follows is a description of a medical procedure that Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal perform on the unconscious dog—a transplant of testes and a pituitary gland from a deceased human being into Sharik's body. From the shaving of Sharik's fur, to the incisions made with the professor's scalpel, to the trepanning of Sharik's skull, to the constant injections of adrenaline that Dr. Bormenthal gives, the procedure is explained in very granular and grotesque detail for several pages.

Finally, once the procedure is complete and Sharik is barely still alive, the professor calls Zina to run him a bath and bring him fresh underwear. The chapter ends with Professor Preobrazhensky peering into Sharik's eye, remarking that he feels bad for the dog, and voicing his assumption that Sharik will die soon.


These two chapters are an important pair because they complicate and deepen the themes introduced in the opening chapters, as well as introduce the central plot device of the novel—the medical procedure performed on Sharik. While the foreshadowing that was so heavy in the opening chapters mostly falls into the background here, irony and imagery are still central devices at work in these chapters, and they here move the novel from an ordinary satire into a piece of science fiction that also critiques the Soviet state in its uses of science.

The critique of Soviet politics begun in the first two chapters finds strong and obvious continuation in the dialogue between Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal in Chapter 3. In this conversation, though Professor Preobrazhensky's tone is facetious in its anger, we see the very real and serious charges he levies at the new government. It is the type of government that allows galoshes to be stolen, housing units to deteriorate, and the power to go out constantly. Such a state of affairs is what the professor is truly exposing when he mentions that reading the newspaper (Pravda) unduly stressed out his patients and brought them more negative health outcomes. Moreover, suggests the professor, it is this destruction of the status quo that has brought about the issues that the Party seeks to fix, rather than the old Tsarist ways. Though he uses the humorous analogy of urination in a restroom to convey his point, there is no mistaking the very serious, ironic, and ideologically counterrevolutionary (and thus criminal) claims that Professor Preobrazhensky here posits.

An additional irony, too, lies in the fact that Professor Preobrazhensky's critique of the revolution could also apply to the very actions he will take himself in Chapter 4. That is, Professor Preobrazhensky's scientific revolution or disruption of the status quo (in the form of his operation on Sharik) will also bring about his own, albeit temporary, personal and scientific ruination. We are thus meant to distrust Professor Preobrazhensky's logic, finding fault with it in the same way we are meant to find fault with the thinking of Shvonder and, eventually, Polygraph Polygraphovich. Moreover, the fact that this scientific dimension may be added to a growing critique of disruptive logic and action has broader implications for the book's indictment of the early Soviet government. Specifically, at the time of the book's writing, the government was eager to exploit scientific advancements in agriculture and industry in order to keep up with other nations; the irony of Professor Preobrazhensky's experiment then, combined with the professor's similar indictment of disrupting the status quo in the name of progress, may thus be a subtle charge laid at the feet of the Soviet government.

Another important element that is contributed by the scientific aspects of these chapters is the introduction of the grotesque in Chapter 4. The in-depth description of the procedure provided to readers is meant to be both off-putting and overwhelming, contributing to a sense of satirical inflation as well as a sense of alienation and fear. Not only does this more thoroughly usher us into the realm of science fiction, but—just as with the irony in Professor Preobrazhensky's remarks on the cause of ruination in society—it also ushers us more deeply into a critique of both the state and the intelligentsia who would seek to turn scientific advances into personal boons or unwelcome corruptions of nature. This cynical view of science and scientific progress will be notably explored later in the novel, but it is worth noting the kernel of this idea here because such a view of scientific progress puts Bulgakov slightly against the Romantic grain of Soviet science fiction at the time.

Finally, as if to emphasize how disruptive the procedure will come to be for both the professor and Sharik, Chapter 4 sees the novel's first major break in point of view or narrative perspective. On page 50, just after Dr. Bormenthal anesthetizes Sharik, there is a literal break in the text which also signifies the end of Sharik's internal thoughts. From here on out, until Sharik is restored to his canine form at the end of the novel, we are not privy to any of his private thoughts. This is notable because he then becomes, in becoming human and becoming a Bolshevik, a completely superficial person. We only know of Polygraph Polygraphovich what we can see directly of him and his actions. Bulgakov's satire of the human condition and of the Soviet condition is here unmistakable as well.

These two chapters are thus a case study in disruption. By looking at how the procedure disrupts Sharik's life, as well as how the revolution has disrupted Professor Preobrazhensky's life, Bulgakov is thus able to weave these elements together in tandem and make a larger, conservative criticism of so-called "progress," as well as the people who would seek to pursue it at the cost of the natural or pre-existing order.