“The Heart of a Dog” is a short novel by the Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov that originally written in 1925 but, because of it’s content (which was denounced by the Russian government) was not properly released until 1987.
The story centers around a stray dog named Sharik, who is taken in by a professor named Philip Philipovich in Moscow in 1924. Sharik is initially overjoyed by his good fortune but soon realizes that Philip Philipovich intends to do an experiment on him. Philip Philipovich gives Sharik the pituitary gland of a human being and after the operation is over he and his assistant watch in fascination and horror as Sharik slowly transforms into a human man.
The novel is a satire critiquing the Russian Communist Revolution and it’s attempt to transform mankind. After Sharik is transformed, he retains the manners of a dog and begins to act in a slovenly, self-absorbed way, representing the idea of the new Soviet man. The novel was heavily prohibited by the Russian government from being released at the time of it’s writing but was circulated in the Russian black market called Samizdat until it was eventually released to the wider public.
It has since been adapted into a comic opera and several movies.
The story, as told from the perspective of a stray dog, begins in Moscow, Russia in 1924. The nameless dog is searching for food in an alley when it is found by a cook and scalded with hot water. Feeling forlorn, the dog lays down in a doorway to await death. Suddenly a gentleman crosses the street toward the dog and offers him a sausage.
The gentleman calls the dog “Sharik”, which is normally a word that is used to refer to a pure bred dog, well cared for dog. In his mind, Sharik swears undying loyalty to the gentleman and when the man asks him to come home with him Sharik follows him. On the way back to the gentleman’s home, Sharik begins protecting the man from perceived threats like an old woman that he scares away by barking and an alley cat that he barks at as well.
The gentleman brings Sharik to a large apartment building where he is greeted by a doorman who calls him Philip Philipovich. Philip Philipovich Preobrazhensky is a successful surgeon. Living with Philip Philipovich are another doctor named Ivan Arnoldovich Bormental and two female servants, Zinaida and Darya.
Ivan is Philip Philipovich’s protege and student and the pair live in a luxurious apartment. Philip Philipovich is against communism and very publicly so. This is a position that, at this time in Russia, was a controversial one. However, because he frequently sees to the medical care of many members of the official communist parties, he is considered untouchable by the secret police. When they get into the doctor’s apartment, he asks his servant, Zinaida to treat the dog’s wounded side and Sharik panics, thinking that he has been tricked into a veterinarian’s office. He tries to bolt out the door but Ivan manages to subdue him.
When Sharik awakes, his side is bandaged and numbed. After a few days, Zinaida begins taking Sharik on walks around town. Sharik is given a new collar and ignores the jeers of other animals as he is led around the city. Sharik is privy to many of the doctors conversations with his patients and is confused by the odd tone of them. The doctor seems to be involved in some experiments that are outside of the realm of a normal physician. However, soon Philip Philipovich reveals why he really took the stray dog in off of the street. He orders that his laboratory be prepared and has Sharik locked in the bathroom.
Sharik is furious to have been betrayed like this and certain that he is going to be “cut up” by the doctors. He paces the room and howls until he is taken out by Zinaida and brought to the laboratory. He is then sedated and the operation commences. Ivan and Philip Philipovich open up Sharik’s skull and give him a human pituitary gland. He is then given human testicles from a dead alcoholic that was killed in a brawl in Moscow. The doctors have to repeatedly inject Sharik with adrenaline so that he will not die during the operation.
At this point, the perspective of the novel shifts from that of Sharik to Ivan, through his notes on the surgery. Over the course of the next few weeks, Ivan’s short note entries reveal Sharik’s progress. For the first few days, he does poorly. His pulse is barely detectable and he continues to receive injections of adrenaline and camphor in order to keep him alive. Just at the point where the doctors assume that the dog will surely die, he takes a turn and begins transforming.
Through Ivan’s notes, it is revealed that Sharik suddenly begins molting all of the hair on his body until he is completely bald. He then begins barking occasionally, but the pitch of his bark has lowered considerably. In another few days, he laughs and this causes Zinaida to faint. Sharik begins saying a word that sounds like “Nesseta-ciled”, which the doctors realize is “delicatessen” backwards. Although no one knows what this means they are amazed. Sharik also begins gaining body mass and his bones begin growing. He gains sixty-six pounds.
By a week and a half after the operation, Sharik wakes and is able to stand on his hind legs for a half an hour before tiring. Ivan reveals that Sharik is nearly his own height. The narration reveals that a loose page is inserted into the notebook that says something about Russian science suffering a “serious blow” in the form of Philip Philipovich’s illness and that he fainted and struck his head on a table. But no more information is given. Ivan reveals that the dog, in the presence of himself and Zinaida, called Philip Philipovich a “cotton-picking son of a bitch.”
A few days later, the dog’s tail falls off and he clearly pronounces the word “liquor”. Ivan says that the doctor has stopped seeing patients and that most days arguing can be heard from the laboratory. Sharik verbally abuses the doctor. Ivan overhears Sharik ask for “another one, and make it a double.” Sharik learns more and more words as well as every known Russian swear word. His fur recedes until he only has hair on his head, his chin and his chest.
Ivan says that most of the observations (such as pictures and phonograph recordings) are being done by him as Philip Philipovich is still not feeling well. Rumors begin to spread around Moscow about the experiment and crowds gather outside the apartment building. Somehow, the news of the experiment becomes muddled in the gossip and it is assumed that the doctors have captured a Martian in their apartment while still others insist that they have delivered a child with stunning capabilities, like the ability to play a violin from birth.
The apartment is swamped by reporters and onlookers. The building’s housing committee, headed by a man named Shwonder that Philip Philipovich has a long time rivalry with, shows up at the doctor’s apartment but are unable to give any concrete reason for investigating them. Philip Philipovich notes that he made a mistake thinking that the implantation of the human pituitary gland in Sharik would merely “rejuvenate” him. Instead it caused total humanization.
A little over two weeks after the operation, Sharik is capable of walking around the apartment. He observes the lush rooms and says his newest, perfectly pronounced word, “Bourgeois”. Ivan notes that, though Sharik swears quite a bit, his swearing does not seem to be in anger and signifies nothing. “There is something mechanical about it – it is as if this creature had heard all this bad language at an earlier phase, automatically recorded it in his subconscious, and now regurgitates it wholesale. However, I am no psychiatrist.” The only person that the swearing seems to affect is Philip Philipovich, who loses his cool regularly when Sharik swears, at one point even telling him to shut up.
After Sharik is sent back to the consulting room, Philip Philipovich and Ivan have a talk about what to do. Philip Philipovich babbles a bit nonsensically before instructing Ivan to go buy some clothes and underwear for the dog turned man. Sharik’s vocabulary begins enhancing greatly, gaining a new word about every five minutes, before gaining full sentences. Ivan says: “It is as if they had been lying frozen in his mind, are melting and emerging.” Though Sharik speaks in full sentences, most are nonsensical and aggressive.
Ivan includes some drawings of a canines transformation into a human with notes about what has changed. Included notes are the elongation of Sharik’s toes and the fact that despite his anger and aggression, he is undoubtedly intelligent. Sharik begins wearing clothes full time, although he initially objects to it and the fur on his head becomes indistinguishable from hair. His appetite grows immensely and Ivan describes it as ‘colossal’.
A few days later, Sharik says something in reaction to what is going on around him for the first time. Unfortunately it is to say, “get screwed” to Philip Philipovich after being told not to throw food scraps onto the floor. Philip Philipovich warns him not to swear at him or Ivan again and the two begin attempting to teach Sharik manners. In a reverent passage, Ivan extols the virtues of Philip Philipovich for creating human life. He asserts that the true function of the pituitary gland has been revealed – it controls human appearance and the hormones of a man’s image.
Sharik evolves to the point that he can sustain a human conversation. Ivan feels that the pituitary gland has entreated Sharik’s brain to evolve and that the words he has been using were accumulated knowledge from the streets. He reveals that this revelation has caused him to look at stray dogs with a secret horror, for he does not know what lurks in their brains. Sharik begins reading. Ivan feels that he probably could always read and this is what caused him to say the word ‘delicatessen’ backwards after he first woke.
Ivan says that he is unsure what is happening politically in Moscow. Seven black market traders have been imprisoned for saying that the world is ending and it has been caused by the Bolsheviks. Darya told him this and said that the traders are saying that the world will end on November 25th, 1925. Philip Philipovich begins acting more strangely, and asks Ivan if he thinks that they will really be able to develop Sharik into an intellectually advanced person. Philip Philipovich seems to be obsessed with the dead body from which they acquired the pituitary gland and wondering if the pathologist made an accurate examination of it.
In the final note from Ivan, he gives Shariks final statistics. He is now, physically a complete human being though he only weighs a bit over a hundred pounds and he is below medium height. He is capable of normal conversation and dresses himself. At this point, the narration of the story is switched again to a third person narrator. On his own, Sharik builds an alliance with Schwonder, Philip Philipovich’s rival from the housing committee, and through him obtains official papers under the name “Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov.”
Ivan and Philip Philipovich’s attempts to teach Sharik manners fail miserably. He insists that it is better to act “naturally” and that manners are a relic of another time and of Tsarism. Life with Sharik only gets worse for the professor. The man continues to act like a dog and chases a cat into the bathroom, accidentally turning on the water spigot. The whole apartment ends up flooding as a result. He attempts to sexually assault one of the servants and Ivan hits Sharik and orders him to apologizes. Sharik storms out of the apartment and stays away for several days.
Ivan consults Philip Philipovich and begs him for permission to administer a lethal dose of arsenic to Sharik. He refers to Sharik as a “man with the heart of a dog”. Philip Philipovich is horrified by this but only because he feels that it slanders dogs. He feels that all of Sharik’s bad habits are the result of the donor of the pituitary gland that was used in the operation. The man was a Bolshevik sympathizer and a homeless drunk. Ivan suggests that they try to redo the operation with the body of a genius instead but Philip Philipovich refuses.
Philip Philipovich goes on a tirade against eugenics, asserting that any poor, peasant woman could give birth to a genius. Philip Philipovich refuses to let Ivan kill Sharik or undo the operation. Sharik returns shortly after this saying that he has gotten a job. He now works catching and strangling stray cats for the Soviet State so that they can be turned into cheap fur coats. Sharik also introduces Philip Philipovich and Ivan to a female coworker who he says is his common law wife. Sharik demands that he and his wife be given their own room but Philip Philipovich refuses. He takes the woman aside and explains the circumstances of Sharik’s birth, saying that he was a lab experiment that went wrong. The woman was told that Sharik was badly wounded in a fight in the army. The revelation of the truth causes her to run out of the apartment in tears. Sharik only becomes angry, vowing to have the woman fired. Ivan hits Sharik again and makes him promise not to do this.
The next day, a man named Pytor Alexandrovich arrives at the apartment. Pytor is a good friend and patient of Philip Philipovichs as well as a Russian official. He informs Philip Philipovich that Sharik has ratted him out to the secret police but that nothing is going to be done about it because the government knows about Sharik and does not trust him. When Sharik returns home that day, Ivan and Philip Philipovich try to kick him out of the apartment, ordering him to leave. Sharik refuses and pulls out a gun but Ivan and Philip Philipovich are so enraged that they manage to disarm him.
That night, the apartment is eerily silent. Schwonder knocks on the door, escorting several policemen. The policemen have a search warrant and demand that Philip Philipovich and Ivan bring out Sharik or they will be arrested. Philip Philipovich does not seem worried by this. Calmly, he summons Sharik. “He gave a whistle, and from the door into the study entered a dog of the most extraordinary appearance. In patches he was bald, while in other patches his coat had grown.”
Philip Philipovich tells the policemen that the operation is simply reversing on it’s own but he and Ivan have reversed the operation on Sharik and this is meant to be obvious to the reader. Now that the police can see that Sharik is obviously changing back into a dog, they are forced to leave without arresting anyone. Schwonder is particularly confused and angered by this turn of events.
A short while later, Sharik transforms completely back into a dog and lays on the rug by the fire while Ivan cleans the laboratory peacefully. Sharik seems happy to resume his life as a gentleman’s dog and not bothered by the fact that he was operated on, although that seems to be the extent of what he remembers of the transformation. However, the very last paragraph of the book describes Philip Philipovich bringing back to the apartment a human brain and removing the pituitary gland. The meaning of this is clear: Philip Philipovich intends to carry out another experiment with the human pituitary gland, although whether this will be on Sharik or some other unfortunate soul is never revealed.
Sharik/Sharikov – the main character of the story. Sharik is a former stray dog that through a laboratory experiment gone wrong, is turned into a human man. As a dog, Sharik’s narration is surprisingly high-minded, commenting on things like politics and communism although he is not capable of voicing any of this out loud. Of course, after he becomes a human he retains the manner of a dog and becomes a slovenly cad.
“The Heart of a Dog” is best read as a satire and best observed through the lens of the state of Russian politics at the time. Sharik’s operation is meant to represent the Communist revolutions attempt to transform mankind and the narcissistic man that develops is meant to represent the idea of a new Soviet citizen. Thus, Sharik is portrayed as lazy, arrogant, self-centered, aggressive and slovenly. He is only happy when he is transformed back into a dog at the end of the story as the servitude is familiar to him.
Philip Philipovich – the scientist in charge of Sharik’s operation and subsequent transformation. It is never made explicitly clear what Philip Philipovich thinks that he is achieving when he installs a human being’s pituitary gland into Sharik but he certainly was not expecting the result that he acquired. Philip spends much of the story confused and then lethargic about the experiment before he finally sets it right in the end. It is revealed that he is ill for much of Sharik’s recovery process as Ivan is made to take down their observations.
Philip seems to believe that all of Sharik’s bad behaviors come from the man that they salvaged the pituitary gland from, a homeless drunk who was also a Bolshevik supporter. Philip clearly regrets creating Sharik The Man when he realizes that Sharik can not be domesticated and made to act like a normal man. However, the regret is not enough to keep him from attempting the experiment again as it is clear that this is what he is planning to do by the end of the story.
Ivan Arnoldovich Bormental – Philip Philipovich’s assistant and protege. Ivan is probably the best audience representation in the book and usually the character with the most level head. At first, he is overjoyed by Sharik’s transformation and considers it a book to scientific advancement but soon he realizes that Sharik is a menace to polite society and that he needs to be either killed or turned back into a dog. Ivan is the most forthright and take charge character in the story as well, taking it upon himself to end Sharik’s life before Philip Philipovich commands him not to. In the end, it is unclear whether Ivan knows and supports the fact that Philip is going to conduct another experiment.
Mikhail Bulgakov Biography
Mikhail Bulgakov was born on May 15th, 1891 in what is present day Ukraine. One of seven siblings, Bulgakov was the son of a state councilor and a prominent member of the Russian Orthodox community. As a child, Bulgakov was drawn to writing plays that he and his siblings acted out as well as reading literature from the great Russian authors like Pushkin and Dostoyevsky.
Bulgakov’s father passed away in 1907 when he was a young man and he soon entered medical studies at Kiev University, finishing with a special commendation. He began working at a military hospital.
In 1913, he married a woman named Tatiana Lappa and shortly afterward World War I broke out across Europe. Bulgakov volunteered his medical skills to the front lines of the war and was badly injured on two separate occasions. These injuries would have side effects that lasted for the rest of his life and as a result of the medication that he had to take to heal, he became addicted to morphine over the next few years.
In 1918, he overcame his addiction and he later published a book simply titled “Morphine” (1926) that talked about his addiction during this period. Throughout the 1910’s, Bulgakov continued to work as a physician and later opened his own private practice. He went on to play a part in the Russian Civil War that began in 1918 and was drafted into the service against the Bolsheviks.
After barely surviving an attack of typhus in 1919, Bulgakov began working as a journalist in the town where he was assigned as a physician. After the war ended, he continued to work as a journalist while the rest of his family emigrated to Paris to escape the rise of the Soviets. Bulgakov would never see his family again after this.
After surviving typhus, Bulgakov began writing and soon quit his career as a doctor to become a writer. His first book, ‘Future Perspectives’ was released in 1919 and he began writing plays that same year. Bulgakov soon moved to Moscow and was appointed secretary to the literary section of Glavpolitprosvet, the department of Political Education.
In 1924, he wrote “The Fatal Eggs” and “The Heart of A Dog2, both stories that concern the misuse of scientific discovery. During the 1920’s, Bulgakov concentrated on writing plays none of which were allowed to run and one of which, “The Run” (1924) was banned by Joseph Stalin himself for glorifying emigration.
In 1925, Bulgakov and his wife divorced and he remarried to a woman named Lyubov Belozerskaya. Though Stalin banned one of his plays, the man greatly enjoyed many of Bulgakov’s other plays one of which, ‘The Day of the Turbins’ he was reported to have seen fifteen times. However, the tide of government censorship soon turned on Bulgavich and by 1929 he was prevented from producing any more plays or publishing any more novels.
Bulgakov wrote a letter to Stalin asking that he be allowed to emigrate if he was no longer useful to the Soviet Union as a writer. Soon, he received a phone call from Stalin asking if he really intended to emigrate. Bulgakov replied that a Russian writer cannot live outside of his homeland. He was given permission to work at the Art Theater in 1930 and began adapting plays again.
Bulgakov married again in 1932 to a woman named Yelena Shilovskaya and in 1928, he began working on his most famous novel “The Master and Margarita”. In the last decade of his life, Bulgakov experienced another bout with censorship and began solely working on “Margarita” in his depression. Bulgakov was able to finish the novel and hold a reading of it for his friends shortly before he passed away of a kidney disorder on March 10th, 1940. He was buried in Moscow in the Novodevichy Cemetery.