Dr. Zhivago | Study Guide

Boris Pasternak

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Dr. Zhivago | Book 1, Part 5 : Farewell to the Old | Summary



Yuri, Yusup, and Lara are sent from the front lines of World War I to an old mansion-turned-hospital in Meliuzeevo. They all want to go home, but transportation has become increasingly more difficult as the revolution goes on. Yuri says as much in a letter to Tonya. He also mentions Lara. In her response to Yuri, Tonya writes that he shouldn't bother coming home to Moscow—he should go to Yuriatin with Lara. Yuri is shocked Tonya thinks he has romantic feelings for Lara. He worries that he has been "behaving ambiguously" toward Lara and promises to clear up the confusion when Lara returns from an assignment.

In the meantime Yuri goes to the commandant's office to register his plans for departure. The area's new commissar, Gint, is visiting. His job is to boost the morale of Russia's military forces. Gint, who looks down on the revolutionaries, tells the commandant, "the people are children ... You must know how to touch their best, most sensitive strings, so that they begin to sound." The commandant and Yusup, also in the office, know this heart-to-heart approach will never work, but they don't like the commissar and want to see him fail.

When Yuri returns to the mansion, he's too nervous to knock on Lara's door, so he busies himself looking out the window and smelling the fragrant blossoms of the linden tree. In the distance he can hear Commissar Gint speaking at the nightly town meeting. He scolds the townspeople for "succumbing too easily to the corrupting influence of the Bolsheviks." That same influence, he says, caused the people of Zybushino to secede from Russia and declare Zybushino an independent territory. Gint is booed off the stage. Weeks later his condescending attitude and language result in his own lynching by revolutionaries and the Cossacks meant to subdue them.

Yuri finally captures a moment alone with Lara the next day. Instead of assuring her that his feelings for her are purely platonic, he ends up admitting that he cares for her deeply. Lara says she was afraid this would happen. She then orders Yuri to "be a good boy," go and get a drink of water, and then return, as if he never said anything. She leaves a week later.

Yuri leaves Meliuzeevo just a few weeks after Lara. He transfers from crowded train to crowded train, and finally finds himself in a nearly empty train car in Sukhinichi, where he is left alone with his thoughts about the different spheres of his life. His only companions are a hunter and his dog. Yuri finally realizes that this is Pogorevshikh, the deaf-mute of local lore, the revolutionary leader from Zybushino said to have been divinely gifted with the power of speech (but who actually learned to talk by studying the movements of speakers' throat muscles).

Yuri and Pogorevshikh debate the future of Russia on the way to Moscow. Yuri thinks "the country must be allowed to come to its senses and catch its breath after one upheaval" before engaging in another. Pogorevshikh insists that society "must fall apart completely, and then the real revolutionary power will piece it back together on totally different principles." This unsettles Yuri. Before they part Pogorevshikh gifts Yuri with a wild duck he killed.


Yuri doesn't let himself acknowledge his attraction to Lara simply because that's not the kind of man he wants to be. He wants to be a good person who is faithful to his wife and family, and tries "with all his might not to love her, just as he had tried all his life to treat all people with love." His affection isn't just based on appearances; both Lara and Yuri are deeply rooted in the natural world. When he blurts "[s]tars and trees come together and converse, night flowers philosophize, and stone buildings hold meetings," Lara says that she has experienced the same things. Lara understands Yuri in a way that no one, not even Tonya, ever has.

Yuri's feelings for both women are shaped by the context of their relationships, which Yuri examines on the last leg of his trip home to Moscow. "One sphere consisted of thoughts of Tonya, home, and the former smooth-running life," Yuri had before the war. This sphere is comfortable, peaceful, and warm. The other sphere encompasses "the trials and the wisdom of life taught by the war," as well as the places and acquaintances made along the way, most notably Lara. This sphere is dangerous, exciting, and incredibly enticing, which only intensifies his attraction to "the other woman." The circumstances of his relationships, not the women themselves, dictate Yuri's feelings. Had the women's roles in his life been reversed, Yuri would most likely view Lara as the safe, comfortable person and Tonya as the unattainable object of desire. War doesn't just change a country's borders and politics—it also changes the relationships of its people.

The developing love triangle between Yuri, Lara, and Tonya isn't the only interesting part of Chapter 5. Yuri's transfer to Meliuzeevo gives the reader a glimpse of the early days of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The revolution was a protest against the Provincial Government that took over after Tsar Nicholas II gave up the throne. Some municipalities, like the fictional Zybushino, didn't accept the Provincial Government as an actual ruling body. When it became clear that the war wasn't going to end soon, deserting soldiers joined such municipalities. These are the people Commissar Gint tries to rally. His ineptitude and condescending attitude shows exactly why the proletariat, or working-class people, were so angry with the government. They were tired of being treated like children and wanted control of their own lives. That's why socialism was so appealing—it put power in the hands of the proletariat.

A revolution needs charismatic leaders, and that's where Pogorevishkih comes in. In just a matter of weeks, he becomes part of the area's folklore as he and his friend spin tales about "inspiration" giving him the ability to speak. They take advantage of the locals' belief in tall tales for their own political gain, encouraging a systematic takedown of Russian society. Pogorevishkih exploits the proletariat just as the previous government had, but he's even sneakier about it. Yuri's ill feelings after their conversation mirror Pasternak's own thoughts about the Bolsheviks' desire to destroy the current political system and "piece it back together on totally different principles." Pasternak, of course, has the luxury of hindsight—he began writing Doctor Zhivago more than 30 years after the revolution's end and saw its effects. Yuri is skeptical about the revolution because Pasternak knew it was more harmful than helpful.

The wild duck Pogorevishkih gives Yuri is a generous gift, but also one that makes Yuri increasingly uncomfortable. Later it comes to symbolize everything that is wrong with Russia's changing political climate. The Bolsheviks think they are championing equality, but they are really causing a greater divide between the haves and the have-nots. Yuri doesn't want to play that game. He would much rather go hungry like his neighbors than feast on the spoils of a revolutionary.

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