Dr. Zhivago | Study Guide

Boris Pasternak

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Dr. Zhivago | Book 1, Part 4 : Imminent Inevitabilities | Summary



Lara loses consciousness after the shooting, apparently struck by brain fever. Komarovsky, furious that she may have ruined his reputation, still finds her irresistible. He secures an apartment for her where she convalesces, slipping in and out of madness for weeks. Pasha is perplexed by the whole thing—he has no idea why Lara wanted to kill a man who "was indifferent to her" and why she's "under the patronage of that same man." When he can finally visit her, she tells him to forget her since she's "bad" and unworthy of him. They argue passionately, and finally, "so as not to lose their minds," marry quickly in the last spring of 1912. On their wedding night, "which lasted an eternity," Lara confesses everything to Pasha as his heart sinks. They talk until morning, by which time Pasha is "a different man."

Following a going-away party attended by Komarovsky, Lara and Pasha move to Yuriatin, the city in the Ural Mountains where Lara grew up. They have a daughter, Katenka, and both teach at local high schools. Lara is the happiest she has ever been. Pasha, however, is miserable. He feels intellectually isolated, and he can barely talk to his wife for fear of saying the wrong thing. She goes overboard and "overwhelm[s] him with her kindness and care." Questioning their relationship, he decides to join the Russian Army, which is in the middle of fighting World War I.

Lara is heartbroken when Pasha announces his intentions and realizes he has misinterpreted her maternal nature as anything but the highest form of love. They write letters to each other during his absence, which helps Lara feel closer to him. Then the letters stop, and Lara worries that something has happened to Pasha. With some practical experience in her back pocket, she passes a nursing exam and gets a job on a hospital train that is heading to the town from which Pasha had written his last letter to her.

Yuri, a highly regarded doctor and now married to Tonya, is also serving with an army medical unit, although not by choice. In the fall of 1915, hours after their first son is born, Yuri received orders to go to the front lines of the war. Misha visits Yuri at the division hospital near the front where he's stationed. One day they come upon a Red Cross first-aid field station to which wounded soldiers are brought. An incident with a severely wounded man brings Lara, Yuri, Misha, Pasha's childhood friend Yusup, and Yusup's father (the wounded man) together, but no one seems to recognize any one else.

Yuri meets Lara and Yusup in another hospital just days later. Both men are patients, having been wounded in an enemy attack. Lara, their nurse, knows neither of them. But Yusup recognizes Lara from photographs of Pasha's, and tells her he knew Pasha both from the unit in which they served, and also from childhood. Lara asks if Pasha is dead. Despite his unit believing him to be so, Yusup spares Lara that news and tells her Pasha has been taken prisoner, which is in fact true. Lara tends to Yuri, finding him strange, young, and unfriendly, but "intelligent in the best sense of the word, with an alive, winning mind." Given that there's no longer hope of finding Pasha, Lara decides it is time to go home. Before she can do so, word arrives that chaos has erupted in Petersburg. The Russian Revolution of 1917 has begun.


Pasha undergoes a striking transformation on his wedding night. He enters his marriage to Lara more child than adult, a virgin who worships at the altar of his partner. All that is stripped away when he learns Lara has had at least one other lover. After their first night together, Pasha wakes in the morning "a different man, almost astonished that he still had the same name." Lara's secret shatters Pasha's rose-tinted glasses, and he sees his new wife for what she really is: a scared young woman with a shameful past. Instead of drawing Lara close to protect her, Pasha pushes her away. This isn't cruelty on his part, but immaturity. Someone has always taken care of Pasha—first his parents, then Marfa Tiverzina, then Lara. He's never had to be the caretaker before, and he's not ready to be.

The reader doesn't know exactly what Lara told Pasha, only that on their wedding night his "suspicious surmises alternated with Lara's confessions." It's a good bet, though, that Pasha doesn't know the identity of Lara's secret lover. If he did, he wouldn't have let Komarovsky attend the couple's farewell party, and Komarovsky most likely wouldn't have begged to be allowed to visit them in Yuriatin. Pasha knows only as much as Lara wants him to know. His realization that Lara has always held him at arm's length prompts him to do the same. He leaves his wife and daughter to join the war effort.

Marriage has also changed Lara. She was shouldering the responsibilities of adulthood before she and Pasha married, but confessing all to Pasha lightened her load. She treats Komarovsky indifferently at the farewell party, no longer afraid of their shared secret. She married Pasha to escape Komarovsky's hold on her, and it worked. This doesn't mean that she doesn't love Pasha—she does, but she shows it through maternal, not romantic, actions. Pasha "did not perceive that such love was greater than ordinary woman's love." But Lara's own mother was lacking in the maternal love department, and her romantic experiences with Komarovsky, though initially thrilling, left her feeling scared and sick. To Lara, "the maternal feeling that she had mixed all her life with her tenderness towards [Pasha]" was greater than any storybook romance.

That maternal instinct is useful during Lara's time as a nurse, which brings her back into contact with her childhood friends and acquaintances. The "chance" encounter between Yuri, Yusup, and Lara in the field hospital not only advances the story's plot—and Lara's knowledge about her husband's disappearance—but serves as another example of how ordinary people's lives intertwine across miles and years. Yusup is the only person who would be able to recognize Lara and bring her news of Pasha, so of course they were fated to meet. The reason for Yuri's presence isn't immediately as clear. This is because Pasternak is slowly ratcheting up the tension between Lara and Yuri, pulling them closer together in a slow burn that makes the reader desperate to witness their first words to each other. Although he doesn't know why, Yuri longs for the same thing.

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