Dr. Zhivago | Study Guide

Boris Pasternak

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Course Hero. "Dr. Zhivago Study Guide." October 27, 2016. Accessed September 24, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Dr-Zhivago/.


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Dr. Zhivago | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Book 1

Yuri Zhivago is an orphan. His mother dies when he is 10; his estranged father commits suicide two years later. Yuri is raised by friends and relatives, and eventually takes up permanent residence with the Gromekos as a teenager. The upper-middle-class Gromekos treat Yuri as one of their own children; their daughter, Tonya, is one of Yuri's best friends. Yuri studies medicine and prepares to graduate in the spring of 1912.

Lara Guichard is the teenage daughter of Amalia, a widow and owner of a dressmaking shop, and sister to Rodion. The Guichards live in a rundown part of Moscow. The only adult male figure in Lara's life is Komarovsky, a ruthless lawyer and friend of her late father who provides financial and emotional support to the family. Komarovsky is unable to hide his attraction to Lara, and they start an affair when she is 16. It lasts only six months but haunts her for the rest of her life. To escape Komarovsky's hold on her, Lara cuts ties with her family and moves in with a friend. Life at the Kologrivovs is blissful until Rodion appears out of nowhere to ask Lara a favor. Komarovsky is involved, and Lara's depression returns.

In 1911 Lara extracts a promise of marriage from her lovesick admirer, Pasha, before going to a Christmas party Komarovsky also attends. Yuri and Tonya are there as well and witness the aftermath of Lara's ill-fated attempt to shoot Komarovsky. Her bullet grazes a bystander and she collapses, afflicted with brain fever. She convalesces for weeks before marrying Pasha in the late spring. On their wedding night, Lara finally confesses her dark past to Pasha. The next morning the heartbroken Pasha is hardened and distant toward Lara.

Ten days later the newlyweds move to Yuriatin, in the Ural Mountains. Lara thrives there but Pasha hates it. He retreats further into himself, studying all the time and lamenting the stupidity of the locals. In their third year of marriage, Pasha joins the Russian Army, leaving Lara and their young daughter, Katenka, and is sent to fight in World War I. Lara follows him several months later, serving as an army nurse.

Yuri, now married to Tonya and newly a father, is an army doctor in the war. He and Lara cross paths on the front lines, and they work together in a makeshift hospital in Meliuzeevo shortly after the beginning of the Russian Revolution in 1917. The war is coming to an end, and Lara leaves Meliuzeevo the day after Yuri accidentally admits his attraction to her.

Yuri returns to Moscow a few weeks later. The city of his youth has changed, and he is uncomfortable in the politically charged environment. Yuri would much prefer to discuss philosophy and art, but none of his friends embrace independent thought as they once did.

The Bolsheviks take over Moscow in October 1917. The city is no longer safe for the upper-middle class. The Zhivagos decide to go to the Ural Mountains, to Varykino, the estate near Yuriatin once owned by Tonya's grandfather. The Zhivagos are sure they will have better fortune there.

Book 2

The Zhivagos travel on a crowded freight train for weeks. Along the way they see the remains of towns demolished by Strelnikov, a Red Army commander, and his artillery train car. Yuri meets the infamous man one evening in a train yard; both men make an impression on each other.

A few days later, the Zhivagos arrive in Yuriatin and travel by carriage to Varykino. Mikulitsyn, the estate's manager, isn't thrilled about the Zhivagos, but offers them an outbuilding and a plot of land. They toil through the spring and summer in the Ural Mountains. The following spring, Yuri spots Lara at the Yuriatin library. They reconnect and begin an affair. Yuri feels horribly guilty about it and vows to tell Tonya everything. Before he can do so, he's conscripted into the Forest Brotherhood, a division of the Red Army.

Yuri serves as the regiment's doctor for 18 months, witnessing live combat, sabotage, and murder. The worst part of his servitude is the arrogant and pigheaded Commander Liberius Forester, Mikulitsyn's son, who takes a special liking to Yuri. When word comes that an unknown group attacked Varykino, Liberius tells Yuri it's best to assume everything is fine. Yuri can't accept that answer. He escapes the camp in the middle of winter and heads for Yuriatin on foot.

Several weeks later he reaches Yuriatin and is relieved to learn his family is back in Moscow. Instead of joining them, Yuri moves in with Lara and her daughter. Yuri and Lara enjoy a few months together until they learn that the local Bolshevik representatives are less than pleased with them and that they are also on the hunt for Strelnikov, who is actually Pasha. Yuri receives a letter from Tonya, informing him that she and the rest of the family are being deported to Paris. Tonya writes that, although she knows Yuri no longer loves her, she still loves him and wants him to be happy.

Komarovsky pays a visit to Lara and Yuri, informing them that Yuri is the next in line for execution. Komarovsky offers to take Lara, Katenka, and Yuri with him to the Far East where he is a minister of justice. Yuri refuses to go, and Lara won't go anywhere without Yuri. A few days later Lara and Yuri decide life in Yuriatin is too dangerous and head to Varykino.

Two weeks after they settle there, Komarovsky appears, having searched them out, and again insists they leave with him. Since Lara won't go without Yuri, Komarovsky concocts a ruse that gets her to safety while Yuri stays behind. A week after Lara leaves, Pasha arrives at Varykino looking for his wife and daughter. He and Yuri spend the evening deep in discussion. When Yuri wakes the next morning, he discovers Pasha has committed suicide.

Yuri returns to Moscow in the spring of 1922 and struggles with depression, keeping a job, and his weakened heart. Despite his antisocial behavior, he attracts the attention of his former yard porter's daughter, Marina. They live together and have two children. But Yuri cannot forget or break from his past. Aided by his mysterious half-brother Evgraf, who coordinates Yuri's disappearance and secures him a job in a hospital, Yuri cuts ties with his new family in 1929. On his first day of work, riding a tram to the hospital, he feels unwell. He manages to get off the tram, taking a few steps before collapsing in the street.

Through a stroke of fate, Lara is in town and stumbles upon Yuri's funeral. She promises to help Evgraf go through Yuri's writings. As they work together, she asks Evgraf questions about finding a child who was adopted. Days after Yuri's death, Lara disappears to whereabouts unknown.

Fourteen years later, in 1943, Yuri's childhood friends Misha and Nika are serving in World War II. They meet a girl named Tanya who does the regiment's laundry. She has Yuri's smile. Major General Evgraf Zhivago has also taken a particular interest in her. After hearing Tanya's life story, Misha and Nika believe she is Lara and Yuri's daughter, about whom Yuri never knew.

Some years later, Misha and Nika read, as they've done many times before, the compilation of Yuri's writings that Evgraf put together. As the lights of Moscow shine through the window, both men feel a sense of peace and hope for the future.

Dr. Zhivago Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Yuri's mother dies; father commits suicide two years later.

Rising Action

2 Lara and Komarovsky start an affair.

3 Lara attempts to shoot Komarovsky.

4 Pasha leaves Lara to join the Imperial Army.

5 Yuri and Lara fall in love while serving in World War I.

6 Yuri meets Pasha (Strelnikov) while fleeing to Varykino.

7 Yuri and Lara start an affair.

8 Yuri is conscripted into the Forest Brotherhood.

9 Pamphil Palykh kills his family before the White Army can.

10 Yuri's and Lara's lives are in danger; they go to Varykino.


11 Lara goes east with Komarovsky; Yuri stays behind.

Falling Action

12 Pasha and Yuri meet; Pasha commits suicide.

13 Yuri dies.

14 Lara disappears, possibly to a concentration camp.


15 Misha and Nika realize Tanya is Yuri and Lara's daughter.

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