Heart of a Dog: Book Review
The novella “Heart of a Dog” by Mikhail Bulgakov is a significant example of the Soviet prose of the beginning of the twentieth century. The story evolves around the metamorphosis experiment conducted by Professor Preobrazhensky in the sphere of eugenics. The result of the experiment – Comrade Sharikov, a newborn member of the Soviet society, who quickly finds his way in adapting to the current life conditions severely controlled by the government policy, soon turning away from his creator and even assaulting him. As a result, Professor Preobrazhensky is forced to perform a regressive experiment, turning Sharikov back into a dog he once was. Thus, the novella skeptically portrays the implementation of the “New Soviet Man” manifest that was developed by the Soviet government, considering it as an unworthy utopia.
This idea of The New Soviet Man was strongly coerced in the Soviet society during the years 1920-1930 and consisted in the creation of the new ideologically brought-up person, who evolved from the proletariat or the working class, comprising such features as physical strength, absolute control over emotions, utmost faith and complete devotedness to the communist policy as well as total deprivation of individualism. The introduced policy aimed at the eradication of the tsarist norms that still had traces in the Soviet society while replacing them with the Communistic standards in order to achieve a unified national consciousness and create a free of class society (Savage, 2011). The implementation of the strategy described was provided via propaganda, education, New Economic Policy and science. Eugenics particularly was a new, yet noteworthy branch that implied the ideas of the biological creation of the New Soviet Man, “breeding” them by crossing the perfect representatives of the humankind, thus bereaving them of disabilities and hereditary disorders. Therefore, the basis for the creation of the New Man was laid and the process commenced, invoking a nearly immediate reaction from the intellectual elite.
The concept of the New Soviet Man is the essential part of the novella “The Heart of a Dog”. Despite its idealization by the Communist government, Bulgakov clearly expresses his discontent about the idea stated above, wrapping it in sarcasm. Being a member of the intellectual elite, his interests were not dominating in the society and his works were often prohibited for printing. Hence, the idea of the New Soviet Man appears absurd to Bulgakov, provoking him to mock the Communist ideology in the “Heart of a Dog”.
One of the most sarcastic notions that the author implies is the transformation from the dog to the human being. The dog as a species lacks consciousness, yet “A dog's spirit dies hard” (Bulgakov, 2011). Hereby, the author draws a parallel between the dog and the average member of the proletariat. Moreover, having presented a new member of the society that has not been previously affected by any ideology “he assesses the … environment by injecting an otherwise historically and socially unfettered and unbiased scientific creation into the present setting” (Caton, 2006). Next, Bulgakov illustrates the evolution of this new human being in the current socio-political surrounding, tracing the influence of the society that Sharikov cannot withstand. Having the average intellectual potential, which is typical for the proletarian as well, he yields to what the party has to offer. It also reflects the reaction of people previously deprived of any property and that is who dominated in the proletariat class. Therefore, Sharikov is no longer a member of an unquestionable mass, becoming a “gear” in the communist mechanism.
Thus, the novella under review presents a literary confrontation to the USSR politics in general, and, more importantly, to the idea of the “New Soviet Man”, not only rejecting it, but also skeptically analyzing its future prospect along with its possible outcome. Bulgakov views this New Man as the bigoted, blinkered and devoid of any moral sense. The novella also reflects the point of view of the intellectual elite towards the Communist policy, crushing its ideas by the dystopian fictional reflection.