«Doctor Zhivago: Above the History» - Free Essay Paper

Doctor Zhivago: Above the History

Doctor Zhivago is a novel written by Russian poet and writer Boris Pasternak in 1955. Named after its protagonist, Yuri Zhivago, this novel embraces the period of Russian history between the years 1903 and 1945. Doctor Zhivago was first published in Milan, Italy in 1957, as it was forbidden on the territory of the Soviet Union because of the anti-Soviet and anti-revolutionary sentiments which were ripe on the pages of the novel. This paper aims at reviewing Doctor Zhivago in connection with the author’s biography and the historical events, described in the novel. Doctor Zhivago is Pasternak’s spiritual autobiography that reveals the events of the revolution from the inside and explores its true character, which was censored in the Soviet Union.

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Even though Pasternak’s biography and life of protagonist are not matching, many consider this novel to be the author’s spiritual or inner autobiography. Boris Pasternak was Russian poet, writer, translator and musician of Jewish origin. As a representative of Russian intellectuals who opposed to or did not support official Soviet government, he was banned from the “Union of Soviet Writers” its officials as well as from the ordinary people of the Soviet Union, as they had no chance of reading his works book. Though Doctor Zhivago was published abroad and secretly popularized in the Soviet Union due to efforts of CIA, it was nevertheless illegally popularized and printed by the Soviet people in quite limited volumes. As the officials, starting with Soviet Union’s leader of the time Nikita Khrushchev, claimed that Pasternak betrayed the Soviet people and his motherland, the poet was denounced by Soviet press and the entire Soviet society as a liar and a cheater. Officials launched an anti-Pasternak campaign and imposed it on ordinary people, who have never read this novel, but were made to have a negative attitude towards it. Such a ridiculous situation demonstrates the relationship between the intellectuals, the ordinary citizens and the officials: even though nobody could read Doctor Zhivago because it was never printed in the Soviet Union, there was an active anti-Pasternak movement even among his colleagues. In 1958 he was granted the Nobel Prize for literature, but he had to refuse taking it due to the above-mentioned persecution and judgement, as recognition from abroad was equaled to betrayal of the Soviet people at the time (Patai 657). In order to save and secure the lives of his family members, Pasternak lived quietly in his dacha until his death from lung cancer in 1960. His contemporaries declared him to be one of the greatest writers of their time, as he was a writer who did not use any pseudonym in order to avoid punishments for his novel. According to Ivinskaya, one of his colleagues declared the following speech on Pasternak’s funeral: “Godmarks the path of the elect with thorns, and Pasternak was picked out and marked by God. He believed in eternity and he will belong to it…Everything that brings us glory we try to banish tothe West... But we cannot allow this. We love Pasternak and we revere him as a poet... Glory to Pasternak!” (331). That is why today he is considered as an outstanding person in the history of Russian literature: he announced his authorship of the novel without making excuses, being responsible for his creation and ready to accept the consequences with courage and dignity.

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Taking into account the novel’s history, Doctor Zhivago is a manifest of individual freedom, love and courage, which manifests itself through the novel’s protagonist, Yuri. The story of Yuri Zhivago has been told since his mother’s funeral, which occurred when he was a little boy in 1903. He is a son of intellectuals on the one side of the family and merchants on the other side. This is why he was sent to Moscow to his family’s friends. The family of Gromeko took him for upbringing and treated him as their own son. Alexander Gromeko was a doctor, and Yuri decided to become a doctor as well, though he was also creative poet who studied philosophy. He was growing up in Gromeko’s household, where he spent a lot of his time with Gromekos’ daughter Tonya, who was Yuri’s first love and later became his wife. The story of Larisa Guichardand her family unfolds at the same time. She and her mother moved to Moscow and ran a small shop thanks to assistance of Komarovsky, who was a lawyer and a cruel businessman. He had romantic relationships with Lara’s mother and Lara herself, when she was a teenager. She tried to get rid of her mature lover and his power by dedicating her life to family. She found salvation in her friend Patulya Antipov, who soon became her husband. These lines seem to have no connection, however, Lara and Yuri had met each other several times. Lara’s husband became a revolutionary commissar, who was blinded by the revolutionary ideas so that he abounded Lara and their daughter and soon after changed his last name to Strelnikov. Lara came to war as a nurse in order to reach her husband and there she met Yuri, who was a doctor. They met several times when they were in captivity, and soon became lovers. Lara and Yuri tried to survive during the revolution by hiding from the officials in abounded places, with abysmal living conditions. When Komarovsky met them and offered assistance to Lara and her daughter, Yuri agreed, though he realized that he will probably never see Lara again. Thereafter he went on foot across great distances in search of a shelter and food, experiencing the consequences of the revolution and war – corruption, hunger, disorder, ruins, illness and death. He married for the second time, but abandoned writing and reading and started to gradually decline. On one morning, on the way to work he died. Lara was put in prison as a deceiver and soon died because of a disease she got in prison. The ends by Zhivago’s poems, which he wrote while he was trying to survive with starvation and chaos around him.

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The author of the novel and the protagonist are both intellectuals who had excellent upbringings and education. This novel depicts the events of revolution and war in early 20th century from an intellectual’s point of view: Imperial Russia was in ruins, whereas the revolution brought nothing but poverty, death and chaos. As Pasternak-Slater states, “Starvation, cannibalism, murder, reprisals, legitimized slaughter – nothing is glossed over in the novel's unflinching particularity” (The Guardian 2010). As it was already mentioned, officials blamed Pasternak for anti-revolutionary and anti-Soviet propaganda because his protagonist and other characters do not support the revolution. In this novel, Yuri neither supports the revolution nor opposes it. He opposes the consequences of the revolution and war, which brought a lot of bloodshed and cruelty. Though the protagonist criticizes the revolution and war, focusing on their real consequences, there are no claims in support of tsarism and imperialism, which proves that Pasternak was actively opposed to the revolution or the Soviet Union.

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I think that by using Yuri’s voice, Pasternak demonstrates that a war can make young and innocent people die for nothing. For example, there is a scene when Yuri, who wanted to heal people, was forced to kill people instead. Even though he tried to shot in the tree, he accidently shot a young boy from the enemy’s army. He and his colleague decided to help him, though they could be punished for it. Yuri makes this boy wear a different uniform and takes care of him, even though he promised to return to the camp of Yuri’s enemy after the recovery. It makes Yuri stand above the enemy camps, the war and the history itself. Yuri supports ideas of humanism, kindness and dignity. He does not oppose a certain political leader or a certain historic event. Another character that demonstrates the intellectuals’ point of view on the revolution is Patulya Antipov, who was so inspired by the revolution that he forgot his family. His new name, Strelnikov may be translated as ‘the one who shoots’. This demonstrates how dedicated could people be to an idea or a cause. Later, Antipov found disappointment and despair in the revolution, and that is why he committed suicide after recognizing that the revolution was false and that he lost the love of his life that was actually waiting for him all the time. This demonstrates how people who are involved in political events of their time may forget about the true values and meanings that surround them in search of illusion such as an evolution or a war. In fact, the history of Russia in the early 20th century was not an age of dreams, spirituality, and fight for a brighter future. These events were headed by indignant individuals, who sew suffering, death and despair instead of romantic revolutionary moods, as they promised. History from the inside is full of dirt, lies, deaths and cruelty, but it is still possible to be above it by keeping the values of love, creativity and individual freedom, as Boris Pasternak and Yuri Zhivago did.

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