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Dr. Zhivago | Study Guide

Boris Pasternak

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Dr. Zhivago | Book 1, Part 3 : The Christmas Party at the Sventitskys' | Summary



Six months into their affair, in the spring of 1906, Lara decides to end things with Komarovsky. Under the guise of wanting to be more independent, she secures a position as a tutor for Nadya's youngest sister and moves in with that family, the Kologrivovs.

Three years go by without a word from Lara's mother or brother. In Lara's fourth year with the Kologrivovs, Rodion visits her about a gambling debt. He'd first gone to Komarovsky, who will lend Rodion money but only if Lara asks for it. Lara instead gets the money from Nadya's father and gives it to her brother in exchange for his revolver so that he cannot harm himself. Although Mr. Kologrivov soon forgets about the debt, Lara doesn't. She feels like a burden to the Kologrivovs, a hostage thanks to her brother's debt, which she cannot repay. Just after Christmas 1911, she decides to ask Komarovsky for money so she can live on her own.

Yuri, now 20, still lives with the Gromekos and is studying to be a doctor. He will graduate in the spring, along with Tonya and Misha, Tonya in law and Misha in philology, the study of literature and language. In November Tonya's mother, Anna Ivanova, who has been ill with pneumonia, suffers a crisis. She believes death is near and begs Yuri to reassure her. Unsure what to say, Yuri talks about resurrection, assuring Anna Ivanova that life goes on through the memories of others. He feels like a quack, but she feels better the next day. When she falls ill again at Christmas, she begs Tonya and Yuri to marry each other even though they have always been just friends. As they ride to the Sventitskys' Christmas party together, Yuri suddenly realizes how attracted he is to his childhood friend.

Lara, also on her way to the Sventitskys' Christmas party, stops at Pasha's apartment. Hiding her brother's gun, which she intends to use on Komarovsky if he refuses to help her build an independent life, she begs Pasha to marry her at once. He agrees without hesitation. Her backup plan in place, Lara finds Komarovsky at the Sventitskys' party. She tries to shoot him, but she ends up hitting Koka Kornakov, a student, instead. Lara collapses.

Yuri recognizes both Lara and Komarovsky, the latter whom he'd recently seen at a hearing about his father's estate, which Yuri renounced. He decides Lara's quarrel with Komarovksy was political, and helps the barely scratched Koka as a formality before turning his attention to Lara. Before he can approach her, Mrs. Sventitsky and Tonya tell Yuri that Anna Ivanova has died.

Tonya's grief is endless, but Yuri takes a dispassionate view of the death of his surrogate mother. Anna Ivanova is buried in the same cemetery as Yuri's mother, whose grave he has not visited in recent years. While the rest of the funeral party mournfully plods along, Yuri springs ahead to "dream and think, to toil over forms, to bring forth beauty." Aware as never before that "art ... constantly reflects on death and thereby constantly creates life," Yuri will put his feelings and observations into a memorial poem for Anna Ivanova.


Though Yuri is studying medicine, he is constantly pulled in the direction of art. This reflects Pasternak's own desire to write and create, as well as his ideas about the nature of life and death. He, like Yuri, veers toward the romantic, teasing out the beauty from life's darkest moments. Yuri's own obsession with dark emotions is reminiscent of gothic literature from the Romantic period, including Geothe's Faust and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Following Anna Ivanova's funeral, Yuri muses on the cyclical pattern of life and death; this is a slight variation on his theory of resurrection. We are all resurrected, he tells Anna Ivanova, because our souls live on in the memories of other people. The terminology—"memory," "soul," "life"—used to describe it doesn't matter. All that matters is "[i]t will be you, having entered into the composition of the future." There is no death, only life. For Yuri the purpose of life is to create art, which ensures the immortality of one's soul.

Pasternak's version of Russia seems limited to a few dozen souls. Everyone in Doctor Zhivago is connected in one way or another: Misha witnesses Yuri's father's suicide, which was caused by Komarovsky, who seduces Lara, who is friends with Olya, whose grandmother cares for Pasha, who lights the candle Yuri sees burning in the window on the way to the Christmas party. Such connections continue throughout the entire novel. This isn't a long string of coincidences; rather, it's fate. Pasternak doesn't explicitly say whether God is directly involved, but these people's lives, particular those of Yuri and Lara, are intertwined from the very beginning. With each subsequent chapter, the chain connecting Yuri and Lara grows shorter and shorter until their separate stories become one.

Here Lara's story is focused on freeing herself from Komarovsky's influence. Though she is physically rid of him, she can't shake the mental and emotional bonds tying her to him. Since he'd served as a father figure for so long, she still turns to him for help. Yet she hates him so much that if he refuses to help her, she will kill him. Lara's erratic behavior—stowing a gun in her muff, making Pasha promise to marry her without knowing why, jealously sizing up a young girl she thinks is Komarovsky's new lover—are symptoms of her depression, which most often manifests itself in self-loathing. Pasternak writes, "the merrier Lara's life was, the worse she felt." She feels like she's drowning, so she attaches herself to the one person who won't leave her: Pasha. Now Lara plays the parental role, secretly subsidizing Pasha's living expenses and sending money to his parents. She ensures that their relationship is a complete reversal of the one she had with Komarovsky. She is in control and doesn't want to become indebted to anyone ever again.

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