How Are Fantastic and Real Mixed in the Novel “Heart of a Dog” and What for?
The novel “Heart of a Dog” written by Mikhail Bulgakov in 1925, is a response of the author to the surrounding reality as a result of those fundamental transformations that occurred in Russia in 1917 (Cornwell 25). The following novel recreates the modern life of the author – the Soviet Union reality of the early 1920s. However, it is necessary to point out that Bulgakov conveys the main topic in a “bizarre” form which is a mixture of the fantastic and real.
The fantasy and reality are intertwined in the “Heart of a Dog” in the tightest way creating a new kind of reality “grotesque.” For readers, it seems that the transformations of Sharik are incredible and implausible. Bulgakov masterfully interconnects the details of reality, everyday life so the readers percept the work as a story about what happened (Cornwell 27). Philip Philippovich Preobrazhensky, a very intellectual man, ingenious scientist, and doctor conceives an unprecedented thing: he wants to provide mankind with eternal youth and become famous for many centuries. The protagonist decides to experiment on a stray dog which he takes from the street. Preobrazhensky takes Sharik to his house and takes care of him. Later the long-awaited moment comes: the necessary “human material” appears – the corpse of the alcoholic Klim Chugunkin who was killed in a brawl while being drunk (Bulgakov 39). It is his pituitary gland and seminal glands that Sharik “receives.” Later, everything turns out the way in which anyone could not foresee the results of the experiment, not even by genius Philip Philipovich. Sharik did not just survived and began to recover rather quickly – gradually extraordinary transformations happened to him. He began to transform into a human. The assistant of Philip Philipovich writes the main points of the evolution of the dog as a result of which he becomes Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov, representative of the proletariat.
The image of Sharikov, as well as the images of other representatives of the “ruling class,” are purely satirical. Undoubtedly, the basis of the images is real because Bulgakov describes the real features of the people who came to power after 1917 (Milne 105). However, often these features are strengthened or exaggerated because in this way the author expresses his attitude over these people and their behavior, their “politics.” Hence, for instance, one of the members of the house committee – “a peach boy in a leather jacket” – bears a surname Vyazemskaya and turns out to be a woman (the writer points at the asexuality of Soviet society) (Bulgakov 76). Also, Sharikov himself periodically forgets that he is no longer a dog, and catches fleas under his jacket or chases cats. Once an adorable dog was transformed into Polygraph Polygraphovich and became involved in the power of politics – take the position of the head of sub-department in the cleaning Moscow center from stray dogs – he transformed into a real monster. The genes of Klim Chugunkin, a very simple man, uneducated, uncultured, and ignorant under the influence of favorable factors, immediately worked. Sharikov turned into an unscrupulous boor and scoundrel who experienced the feeling of being powerful. It seems that this hero reveals his anger, aggressiveness, strangled self-esteem, and a sense of inferiority using another people. Here, the satirical and quite good-natured tone of the story begins to acquire ominous tones (Milne 108). The readers understand that Professor Preobrazhensky and his whole “family” are in real danger.
Nevertheless, the story of Bulgakov ends safely. When Preobrazhensky realized that his “creation” carries a danger to everything around him he then again turns Sharikov into a dog. Everything changed for better and Preobrazhensky, proving his innocence in the murder of Sharikov, for some time gets rid of the claims of Shvonder (Cornwell 97). Sharik, once again acquiring its original appearance, adores his benefactor. The finale of the “Heart of a Dog” does not bring comfort or pacification to the readers. There remains a vague sense of anxiety and even danger. At any moment, the life of Philip Philipovich can change, at any moment the house with its traditions and foundations can finally disappear as well as the culture that it personifies. The readers would feel that the same feeling of instability was in Bulgakov himself during the creation of his novel. The author believed that any form of violence against the person, physical or ideological, cannot lead to success. The human is a unique individuality and Klim Chugunkin, who became material for creating Sharikov, was just a resemblance of Klim Chugunkin.
Bulgakov uses in his story such an artistic device as a mixture of the real and fantastic to more accurately and precisely convey his thoughts to the readers. Very often it is done so professionally that it is tough to understand where one feeling ends and another begins. As a result of the combination of these two realities, a third is created – grotesque, which allows the writer not only to convey the situation of the 1920s in Soviet Russia but also to express his attitude to everything that is happening.
Bulgakov Mikhail, and Frank Galati. Heart of a Dog. Dramatists Play Service, 1988.
Cornwell, Neil, and Nicole Christian. Reference Guide to Russian Literature. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1998.
Milne, Lesley. Mikhail Bulgakov: a Critical Biography. Cambridge University Press, 2009.