Heart of a Dog

Heart of a Dog Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Shvonder (Allegory)

Shvonder is not just a minor annoyance to Professor Preobrazhensky and a short-term friend to Polygraph Polygraphovich in the text. Additionally, he stands in as an allegory for the ordinary, proletarian servant of the Soviet state. He is absolutely obedient to his superiors, even when they contradict their own doctrines to save the professor, and he observes all of the rituals of the State's doctrine (e.g., singing choral songs with his flatmates in the evenings). He represents the real threat that social revolution poses to old-money aristocrats like the professor, but because Bulgakov is more sympathetic to the counterrevolutionary professor than he is to the Bolsheviks, he is also representative of the State's impotence and foolishness in trying to upset the status quo.

The Professor's Apartment (Symbol)

Philip Philippovich's apartment is a symbol of a kind of world hidden from the exterior reality of Soviet Russia. Such decadence as the professor occupies is not meant to exist in the post-revolutionary Soviet Union, but it nonetheless persists and is a poorly kept secret, at that—he has many visitors each day in the form of patients, officials, and the people from the housing committee. Though revolution goes so far as to be at his very doorstep in the form of this lattermost group (who want to consolidate and redistribute his property), it is never successful in requisitioning anything that the professor values. The apartment is a self-contained home and work space that the professor only rarely leaves, a kind of symbol of his privilege that shelters him from political change, new policies, and social upheaval.

Correspondence between Engels and Kautsky (Symbol)

The volume of Engels' correspondence with Kautsky becomes highly symbolic in the text. Initially given by Shvonder to human Sharik, the volume represents Bolshevik thinking and the philosophies of the Soviet state. However, when Sharik talks to the professor about this volume, the professor snaps at Sharik and tells him that he could not possibly have a valid opinion on wealth redistribution because of his canine origins. He then burns the book in front of Polygraph/Sharik. Later, when human Sharik informs against the professor, he mentions this burning, saying that his actions were counterrevolutionary. As such, the narrative trajectory of this book in the text renders it highly symbolic of Soviet ideology itself. The book, like Soviet thought, is merely presented to even the most irredeemable people in the nation with expectations that they will be able to reform themselves; the irony, of course, is that Sharik barely understands the book when he reads it, yet is fervent in advocating for his nascent Bolshevik ideas. Further, the book is symbolic of Soviet ideology insofar as it is also weaponized against the professor when he rejects it: this vengeful bend was a prominent feature of the Soviet state's governance throughout its existence.

Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov (Allegory)

If Shvonder is an allegory for the blind obedience and impotence of the standard, proletarian government employee, then Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov (the formerly canine Sharik) is an allegory for the failure of the Soviet state in a different regard—specifically, those base, deplorable, and irredeemable people who the Bolsheviks nonetheless thought they could reform and find a place for in society. Polygraph Polygraphovich is a rude drunk who mistreats women and steals, yet even he is able to become a director of the purge section for the State, clearing the streets of cats. His very job is to satisfy his canine and animal impulse to kill cats, yet it is considered totally acceptable and normal within the status quo. Also notable is the fact that the pelts of these cats are used to deceive working people, since they are made out to be squirrel pelts.

Galoshes (Symbol)

Galoshes also figure rather prominently in the text as a recurring symbol. Sharik tears up the professor's galoshes on several occasions, for example. Moreover, when the professor thinks of the decay of the housing building associated with Soviet rule, one thing he cites is the theft of all of his galoshes in a single day. What's more, the professor himself seems to be the only person in the text who owns galoshes, and Dr. Bormenthal even tells him at one point that proletarians do not own such shoes. Finally, there is a well-known Russian idiom, roughly translating to "to sit in an overshoe/galosh," which means one has messed a situation up or acted in error. Together, this evidence suggests that galoshes are being used symbolically in the text to stand in for transgressions against the bourgeois class. They only exist in the text insofar as they are stolen or destroyed, and the professor (the most bourgeois character in the text) is alone in owning them.