Heart of a Dog

Heart of a Dog Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5–6


Chapter 5

As Chapter 5 begins, the narrative mode shifts from standard prose to telegraphic case notes—specifically, those of Dr. Bormenthal and Professor Preobrazhensky after the procedure performed on Sharik. These notes convey not only the day-to-day routines that keep Sharik alive—such as treatments with camphor and caffeine—but also some of the more unconventional things that happen in the procedure's wake. In general, Dr. Bormenthal and Professor Preobrazhensky are shocked to find out that Sharik slowly begins to turn into a human being in the wake of the procedure, with his speech becoming lower in pitch and more human over time, his tail falling off, and his posture growing more and more upright.

Eventually, because of Sharik's transformation, Professor Preobrazhensky stops receiving patients, and rumor spreads around Moscow about the professor's latest discovery. This leads to a variety of upsets, such as people coming in through the kitchen to get a look and stealing a photo of Dr. Bormenthal that Darya Petrovna had earlier taken out of love and publishing the photo while saying it is of a baby who was born able to play the violin delivered by the Professor. The house committee also takes note of something strange going on. Meanwhile, the now-human Sharik is potty-trained, clothed, and so on. He curses often, and frequently tells off the professor and Dr. Bormenthal.

The notes then record Dr. Bormenthal's fear that they will have to flee town on account of what they did to Sharik. As reason for his fear, he cites the cases of a couple vendors in town who were arrested after spreading rumors that the Bolsheviks were going to bring about the end of the world. Though Dr. Bormenthal holds out hope that Sharik can be converted into a smart gentleman, Professor Preobrazhensky scoffs at the suggestion. It is here that we are told of the person whose organs were transplanted into Sharik—Klim Grigorievich Chugunkin, a young and drunken degenerate who sympathized with the Bolsheviks. Professor Preobrazhensky scorns Dr. Bormenthal for having failed to consider the whole person in question when selecting a pituitary gland (or hypophysis) to transplant. Finally, as the chapter closes, Dr. Bormenthal remarks that Sharik's transformation into a new being is entirely complete, and he resolves to continue to observe the new organism.

Chapter 6

As Chapter 6 opens, it is the end of January, and there seems to be an air of confusion and disarray in the professor's apartment. The professor is reading a statement in the newspaper from Shvonder, who says that he believes the new inhabitant of the apartment to be the professor's illegitimate son. A balalaika is being played by the now human Sharik, which bothers the professor, so he tells Zina to stop him. Soon after, the professor meets with Sharik face to face. He is now a man of poor build and unpleasant appearance. The professor looks at Sharik's clothes and scorns him for both his tacky unfashionableness and his tendency to sleep in the kitchen. When Sharik responds by calling Professor Preobrazhensky "dad," however, the professor is angered and demands to be called by his patronymic. Sharik then accuses the professor of having operated on him without his consent, and he insists throughout on calling the professor "comrade." When Professor Preobrazhensky also takes offense to this address, however, Sharik insists that they are equals, and that they ought to drop the formalities.

Sharik then tells Professor Preobrazhensky that he needs documentation if he is to remain in residence at the apartment, since the house committee has asked him to register. This leads to another blow-up from Professor Preobrazhensky about the uselessness of the registration system and the new governmental policies, to which Sharik says that they serve the working class, of which he himself is a member. Sharik then says that he'd like to be called Polygraph Polygraphovich, after a name that he and members of the housing committee found on a calendar. This also strikes Professor Preobrazhensky as ridiculous, but when Sharik tells the professor that a similar calendar with this name is hanging in his exam room, the professor has Zina throw it in the stove. After much fuss, the professor assents, and Sharik is renamed Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov.

Soon after, Shvonder comes over and has Professor Preobrazhensky sign forms testifying to the validity of Polygraph's documentation. The professor decries the documents and tries to get Polygraph to butt out of the conversation with Shvonder, but Shvonder jumps to Polygraph's defense and says he has a right to be heard on matters that involve him. In fact, Shvonder stays on Polygraph's side throughout their interaction, until Polygraph suggests that he would never serve in the Russian military, if called. At the same time, clear signs are given that the professor is at his wit's end with Sharik; for example, he throws the receiver of the phone off the hook and lets it hang in front of his guests. Shvonder leaves, and Polygraph leaves as well, leaving the professor alone with Bormenthal. The professor confesses that he is more worn out now than he has ever been.

Suddenly, there is a noise and a stir in the foyer. Polygraph has chased a cat into the professor's bathroom, and water is running everywhere. Though the professor and his staff try to stop Polygraph, they are distracted by a woman who peers in to get "a little peek at the talking dog" (79) and the professor's remaining patients, whom he has Dr. Bormenthal send away. Suddenly, Polygraph appears in the transom above the bathroom door into the kitchen, saying he locked himself in the bathroom and has no way out. He claims that the cat knocked out the lightbulb (so he cannot see), and he tells the company assembled that he has knocked the faucet off and cannot stop the water from flowing. This floods the Professor's apartment. Fyodor comes to assist, but also to tell Professor Preobrazhensky that Polygraph has shattered the glass of a different apartment while throwing stones at a cat. Professor Preobrazhensky is furious and thinks that he has never met anyone with the nerve of Polygraph, and Fyodor apologizes to the professor that he has to deal with such a character.


In these chapters, we bear witness to Sharik's first moments as a human being, and as he tries to find a new place for himself in contemporary Soviet society, Bulgakov endeavors to show readers the inconsistencies in the system that would accommodate someone (or, more properly, something) like Sharik. Here, again, irony and imagery play central roles in foregrounding Polygraph/Sharik's foibles, as well as the ludicrousness of the governing apparatus that would seek to encourage and support such an abomination.

One other thing that Bulgakov deploys in these chapters, however, is the use of different narrative modes to convey information—namely, the journal entries in Chapter 5 and the handwritten notes in Chapter 6. In the case of the former, the narrative style is more reserved and less bombastic—consistent with actual doctor's notes—but the things that are being recounted are, in fact, more ridiculous than anything heretofore mentioned in the text. It is this fact—that detailed notes about camphor injections and medical techniques are pushed up antithetically against things like Sharik's tail falling off—that expertly both establishes a tone of satire and an element of verisimilitude. If such an absurd thing were to happen during a doctor's observation, after all, it would certainly be recounted in this manner—consistently, methodically, and over the course of several weeks. The note on the door of the waiting room has a similar effect in the text. Namely, it both echoes how one might communicate with others who are constantly passing in and out of a common space, while at the same time adding in more odd or humorous elements such as the restriction on balalaika playing. Together, these thus represent a new means in the text by which Bulgakov both brings attention to the novel's status as a comedy or satire, while also bringing the subjects of that satire closer and closer to everyday life.

Another element in these chapters which plays into Bulgakov's larger senses of irony, subversiveness, and satire is the heavy deployment of Russia or Soviet-specific allusions. The fact that the unwitting organ donor's name is Chugunkin is actually a reference to Joseph Stalin, since "Chugun" in Russian means "cast iron," while "Stal" means "steel." The linguistic irony and allusion does not stop here, however. We recall from our analysis of past chapters that Professor Preobrazhensky's name, too, is a reference to transfiguration and the transformation of Sharik. Additionally, when humanoid Sharik chooses a name for himself, he chooses an absurd double name that not only echoes something out of Gogol (e.g., Akaky Akakievich of "The Overcoat") but also has a reference to machinery. Though early polygraphs existed for lie detection purposes at the time, it is possible that "Polygraph" was meant as a reference to printing processes for calendars, thus doubling down on the humorous nature of his "name day" (i.e., his mistaken choice of a proprietary calendar name as a real name). Moreover, the fact that "Polygraph" is chosen is in itself a satiric response to new naming conventions in the early Soviet Union, wherein people would choose technological or revolutionary names to echo hopes for a new and brighter future.

To speak of the central irony and imagery in the chapter, there are several key moments to focus on. The first is the way in which Bulgakov deftly establishes a sense of the rumor mill operating within Moscow in Chapter 5. Here, we see not only how hungry people are to get a sight of Sharik, but also the humorous detail with the press stealing and publishing a photo of Dr. Bormenthal which emphasizes that these people care not one bit about the veracity of what they are publishing. The second is in Shvonder's interaction with Professor Preobrazhensky concerning Sharik's documentation. Shvonder, an agent of the government, constantly sides with the sub-human entity in their disputes, even when Sharik explicitly says that he would never serve his country in the military. Such a detail reveals not only the inconsistencies in the philosophy of the government, but also the way in which it prioritizes vengeance and humiliating its enemies over principled rule and logic. The third, then, is the scene in which Sharik causes the flood in the professor's apartment. The excessive piling up of details here, as well as the absurdity of the situation's origins (i.e., Sharik chasing a cat and breaking the faucet, then locking himself into the bathroom) not only highlights the incompetence of Sharik, but also deepens the satiric tone that has already been established in the novel. Moreover, it provides a sense of the real, physical damage Sharik inflicts on the professor, as opposed to basic ideological or psychological conflict. Together, then, these moments serve to show that the environment in contemporary Moscow is hostile, cares not for fact or correctness, and is willing to uplift even the most incompetent and dubious characters.

These details all remain central throughout the remainder of the novel, particularly where they concern the primacy of rumor in Moscow and the willingness of the government to support even ideologically motivated degenerates. An important thing to keep in mind, however, is that none of the events in these chapters and what follows would have happened if Professor Preobrazhensky had not in the first place endeavored to manipulate nature and science in his own favor. The novel is certainly a biting satire of the Soviet state, but at the same time, one must keep in mind that it is similarly a satire of the selfish intelligentsia who promote eugenics, mad science, and other corruptions of nature.