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Dr. Zhivago | Study Guide

Boris Pasternak

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Dr. Zhivago | Motifs


Connection with Society and Family

All the characters in Doctor Zhivago are connected in some way or another, many for the entirety of their lives. Though Yuri is the center of this web, his emotional connections with society and with his family erode as time goes on. Before World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917, he is in the thick of the burgeoning culture and literary scene. He is close to Tonya and her family, as well as their friends. He feels like he belongs.

Everything changes when he returns home from the front line. The Bolsheviks are trying to homogenize society, but Yuri clings to the idea of the individual. This is the source of the disconnect between him and everyone else. He tries to be part of the larger world, but with every step he takes in an attempt to conform to what society and his family needs, he takes two steps back. He takes his family to Varykino to keep them safe, but starts an affair with Lara. He gets a job in Yuriatin following his service with the Forest Brotherhood, but quits after just a few months because he is not willing to conform to their ideals.

Yuri's writing is also a source of his separation. Even when he's with Lara, his new de facto family, he longs to be alone at night so he can write about the "[a]nguish [that] gnawed at his heart." Holed up in his former family's old home in Varykino, he is hiding from a society that doesn't accept his beliefs. This only fuels his midnight scrawlings. When the revolution ends and Lara is gone, Yuri's attempt at reintegrating himself into society is once again a failure. He leaves his third family to concentrate on his writing. The moment he emerges from that cocoon into society, he dies. For Yuri life has always been about the individual. That mindset tears apart three families, but it spurs Yuri forward creatively. He literally can't survive in a world in which everyone is expected to be like everyone else.

Connection with Nature

Yuri is obsessed with nature from a young age, and his observations of the natural world are mentioned repeatedly in Doctor Zhivago. Taking in everything nature has to offer him is how Yuri connects with God. It's also how he connects with the two women he loves most in his life: his mother and Lara. As a child Yuri hears his mother's voice "in the melodious turns of the birds and the buzzing of the bees." He goes into the heart of the ravine to lie among the flowers and bushes, where he is able to properly mourn her loss. Likewise he finds signs of Lara in the thick woods of Siberia. The fiery sunset transforms the surrounding forest into her likeness, and he sees her arms in the thick, snowy branches of the rowan tree.

Yuri's connection with nature is often directly at odds with his connection with family and society. The closer he comes to nature, the more he distances himself from everyone around him. He is literally at a distance from his family and the rest of society when he is conscripted into the Forest Brotherhood. Working the land in Varykino puts him at a figurative distance from the people around him, particularly those who are in need of a doctor. When he is forced indoors during the winter, he is close to Tonya and the rest of his family, but with spring comes the inevitable separation of himself from everyone else. On the whole, Yuri is more comfortable with the elements of God's world rather than with God's creatures.

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