Communism is like Training a Dog

Although the class as a whole did not read The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov, I started to notice some social critiques in the work that I had not previously noticed before our discussions on Solaris and The Escape Attempt. The basis of the soft-core science-fiction narrative is that Doctor Philip Philopovich (already a nonsensical name) decided to take the pituitary gland of a recently deceased individual and put it in the body of the dog, Shorik, which he has had as a pet.

Slowly, Shorik begins to be able to converse with humans, read, and walk up right. However, the final transformation into a human leaves Shorik as a selfish, whimsical, perverted, stout, and unattractive man. Shorik does retain certain animalistic qualities such as when he chases the cat around the Doctor’s house, which he inevitably wrecks. Over the course of the story, the House Committee attempts to register Shorik, who is then given a worthless job as the manager of garbage collecting. Shorik then attempts to force the Doctor into giving up rooms in his apartment, but in the end, the Doctor removes the pituitary gland and Shorik reverts to his canine form.

Now, I see Bulgakov as using the transformation of Shorik into a small, vile Russian citizen to symbolize how man himself is merely a beast akin to that of a dog. Taking it a step further, Bulgakov allowed only Doctor Philopovich and his assistant Ivan Arnoldovich to be the few educated citizens of the story, which may also be a jab at the uneducated Russians are closer to animals than civilized humans.

Instead of using the new cognitive abilities that he has attained, Shorik instead busies himself with eating, drinking, chasing women, and demanding whatever the House Committee tells him he should demand. Each of these qualities can be linked back to those of his canine origins, but for all intents and purposes, Shorik is now a human; he is an educationless human. Therefore, he does not attempt any worldly pursuits but instead responds to all worldly stimuli with his reflexes: he attempts to rape the house keeper, he is hungry so he demands food, he is told he should have a job so demands one, and finally, the House Committee tells him to demand rooms from Philip Philopovich. All are baser ideas and stimuli that each Russian and human deals with, and many humans would respond in the same way.

Making a larger leap to the repressed masses of the Soviet era, Bulgakov uses Shorik’s baseness and the House Committee’s dirtied physical description and unquestioning obedience to highlight the lowliness and inhuman characteristics that are a consequence of the times. I felt annoyance with the House Committee and sympathy for the Doctor when the three dirty, unintelleigent, and young members of the Committee continually threatened and demanded that the Doctor give up two of his rooms. Rather than ponder their orders and use cognizance to understand why the Doctor should retain his rooms that he pays for, the Committee members blindly follow their orders like a trained dog being told what to do by its master.

To me, The Heart of a Dog can be viewed as both a basic criticism of human nature, but also as a satire to criticize the “loyal” communists, who blinded followed the orders of the time.