Heart of a Dog

Heart of a Dog Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7–8


Chapter 7

Far from the high-energy hijinks of the last chapter, Chapter 7 begins with Polygraph, Professor Preobrazhensky, and Dr. Bormenthal eating dinner together in the apartment. After a brief disagreement with Polygraph over table manners, Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal agree—speaking German so as not to be detected by Polygraph—to meet and talk again later. They then plan their evening out, and Polygraph suggests that they go to the circus. Professor Preobrazhensky replies that this is a very crude and base form of entertainment, and that Polygraph ought to consider going to the theater instead. When Polygraph calls this "counterrevolutionary," however, another disagreement breaks out between Professor Preobrazhensky and Polygraph over politics. It seems that Polygraph has been reading Engels' Correspondences with Kautsky—a volume owned by the government and loaned to him by Shvonder—and he suggests that all wealth should be consolidated and divided fairly among the people. In doing so, he makes a specific reference to the size of the professor's apartment, which further ignites the professor's temper. He tells Sharik that he knows nothing and that he is at the lowest rung of the evolutionary ladder, and then has Zina burn the Engels volume.

After this violent blow-up, the dinner ends in silence, and Dr. Bormenthal takes Sharik to the circus—that is, once he has made sure that there are no cats in the evening's programming. Finally alone, Professor Preobrazhensky then looks at Sharik's leftover pituitary gland floating in a jar and contemplates the essential qualities within the pituitary that have caused all the unhappiness in his apartment after Sharik's transformation. He then flops on the couch and comes to a sudden decision, saying "By God, I think I will" (94). As the chapter closes, the professor remains on the couch and awaits the return of Polygraph and Dr. Bormenthal from the circus.

Chapter 8

As Chapter 8 opens, we are told that no one knows what decision Professor Preobrazhensky came to the previous evening. The next day, however, a member of the house committee appears and presents Polygraph with a form, which Polygraph promptly shows the professor. It certifies that Polygraph is to be allotted a certain portion of Professor Preobrazhensky's apartment. When this causes another moment of tension between the two, however, the professor threatens to stop providing for Polygraph if he does not behave himself. Polygraph then keeps to himself for the rest of the day.

That night, however, while Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal are sitting in the professor's office, a sudden noise is heard in the apartment. Professor Preobrazhensky alerts the authorities, but it seems that Polygraph has returned in a drunken state with a couple of degenerates, who have stolen both money and a commemorative cane from the professor. Polygraph accuses Zina of having stolen the items, then throws up into a pail. Two hours later, the professor and Dr. Bormenthal are exhausted, and they have a serious conversation about Polygraph/Sharik.

Dr. Bormenthal tells the professor that he has never seen him this exhausted before, and he voices his concern for the professor, who he acknowledges has been an important mentor and friend to him. After he gives the professor a friendly kiss on the brow, the professor launches into self-pity, saying that he has done brain operations for such a long time yet ironically could not have foreseen such terrible consequences from the procedure he performed on Sharik. They think of killing Sharik or otherwise getting rid of him, but Professor Preobrazhensky thinks that they will be caught, and he will not allow Dr. Bormenthal to face punishment for it, believing himself to be utterly shielded in his celebrity from the weight of the law.

Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal also spend time talking about the nature of the procedure that they performed. Dr. Bormenthal endeavors to persuade the professor of the value of his discovery (i.e., that a hypophysis/pituitary holds all the information that controls the aspect of a given person), saying that, were it Spinoza's brain, the procedure could be a huge boon for the world. However, the professor insists that the procedure and his discovery are useless because Nature already more than provides the world with enough good men and geniuses. Moreover, while Dr. Bormenthal insists on killing Polygraph and does not see the potential for change in him, the professor holds out hope that he will learn to change as the dog components of Polygraph's brain loses influence over time.

Suddenly, steps are heard outside. In response, Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal begin to talk more in German to avoid detection, but eventually, they decide to fling the door open. What they see is Darya Petrovna, wearing nothing but a nightgown, dragging Polygraph behind her. It would seem that Polygraph attempted to assault Darya and Zina in their sleep, but Darya was able to wake up and stop him. She then realizes her nakedness and flees, causing Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal to descend on Polygraph in rage. As the chapter closes, Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal resolve to teach Polygraph a lesson the following day, once he sobers up.


After Sharik has already become comfortable as Polygraph Polygraphovich, these two chapters show a couple of the flashpoints that lead Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal to conclude that living with Polygraph in their apartment is untenable. The way in which these events are related, however, remains much the same as in previous chapters. Specifically, just as in the previous two chapters, irony also plays an important part here, as does allusion.

As elsewhere in the novel, irony is used in these two chapters to shed light on both the weakness of Polygraph's character as well as the inconsistencies of the Soviet state that would seek to integrate and accommodate someone like Polygraph. In Chapter 7, for example, when Polygraph discusses Engels and Kautsky with Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal, it is clear that Polygraph has either not read or not completely understood the text of the book. Nevertheless, he continues to uphold its principles as empty ideals without the substance to support his beliefs. It is doubly ironic, then, that Professor Preobrazhensky has Zina burn the book, which reads as just as empty of a gesture as Polygraph's supposed reading of the book. Moreover, later in the chapter, when Polygraph denounces cats in the circus, calling them "trash," the irony speaks for itself, since Polygraph's canine origins and bad behavior would seem to relegate him to the same category (92). Finally, in Chapter 8, when Polygraph presents Professor Preobrazhensky with a form calling for land allocation, it is ironic both because the Soviet state is choosing to redistribute wealth to a dog, and also because of the professor's response that he is above regulation and the law. These twin ironies reveal, respectively, the apathy of the Soviet state regarding the quality of its population and the professor's stubborn, bourgeois attitude attendant to his celebrity.

The allusions in these chapters are also important in solidifying the novel's central themes and aesthetic claims. For example, the fact that Professor Preobrazhensky and Dr. Bormenthal speak German to each other calls back to the place of ethnic Germans and the role of the German language in the aristocracy of Tsarist Russia. The fact that it is used by the intelligentsia of this novel as a kind of secret code emphasizes the alienation of bourgeois individuals from early Soviet society. The reference to the Engels-Kautsky correspondence, on the other hand, is meant to lend the text additional veracity and bring the contents closer to reality so that it may succeed more thoroughly as a satire. Finally, the fact that Spinoza is used metonymically to stand in for all geniuses of good character is no coincidence or mere throwaway. Rather, because Spinoza is famous for his opposition to the separation of body and mind (that is, mind-body dualism), it is particularly ironic that he is invoked here when speaking of an experiment which proves the truth of mind-body duality. After all, were body not separable from mind, Sharik would not have been transformed, and the professor's conversation on this topic with Dr. Bormenthal would have never taken place.

Here, too, however, it is important to keep in mind that we are meant to be critical of the professor and his explosively negative responses, while also being sympathetic enough to detect the truth in what he says and does. Sharik/Polygraph is, of course, a thoroughly negative presence in the professor's apartment, but the professor is himself a negative presence in the world. In Chapter 7, for example, when the professor makes his mysterious resolution, the novel describes him as "looking like an aged Faust" (94). This reference to Goethe's classic tale of a scholar and scientist who strove too hard and corrupted both certain people and nature before his ultimate death is not only particularly resonant here as we discuss a similar scientist, but also meant to present the professor as a character of deep moral ambiguity. The actions he undertook perhaps had positive motivations, but the result was highly negative, and we see just how much this negativity affects the professor in the next chapter when he confesses that he wants to dispose of Polygraph. Thus, the professor here too is built up as both a right-minded character and a kind of repentant sinner who wishes to undo the evil that he has wrought on himself and his home.

Together then, these details allow these two chapters to both support the action that came before them and serve as a segue into the novel's final chapters and the climax that follows. We are made more acutely to feel the tensions between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, but at the same time we are made to consider more deeply the role of science and new technology in society. Finally, by exploring the faults inherent in both Polygraph and the professor, Bulgakov both instills us with a general anti-Bolshevik sensibility and primes us to note how faults may still crop up among those to whom he is more sympathetic. The novel thus comes off not just as science fiction or satire, but also a probing exploration of the human condition.