Romance, love, redemption, loneliness, and individuality. Themes such as these are not discussed in depth in a particular text, much less brought about with the setting and particular scenes to depict these major ideas. However, these themes are observed in Boris Pasternak’s Nobel prize-winning novel “Dr. Zhivago” as the renowned writer utilizes many literary techniques, including symbolism and imagery, to bring about these themes in a conspicuous and detailed manner. The novel was first published in 1957 in a small town in Italy, Europe, and then officially published in 1988. The fact that Pasternak had begun writing this text decade in advance further emphasizes the amount of detail and content put into his remarkable work.
The impact Dr. Zhivago leaves in literary history is massive. As discussed above, it was one of the main sources of Pasternak’s distinguished Nobel prize, and its fundamental concepts of individualism against collectivism, and how loneliness arises the individualism, set during the time of Putin’s rule over Russia, stirs the minds of readers and allows them to relate this novel to historical events. Pasternak uses the setting, that is, the place and time where this story took place, as a symbol or a tool to bring about one of the novel’s major themes. The novel was set during the Russian Revolution, which was an ideological struggle that did not discriminate between the young and the old. Thus, this novel can be categorized as a colonial or post-colonial novel, a political stance taken by a writer in favour of disfavouring imperialism. Dr. Zhivago speaks of the collective political stand against society and a concept of freedom over autocracy, which stems from an individual thought or frame of mind.
In this novel, Yuri Zhivago is expressed as the ultimate individual, expressing himself through poetry and observing the beautiful aspects of life. His emotions tend to overcome him more frequently, and he is extremely meditative. Yuri is a man who exerts himself against the collective belief of Russian society. Yuri’s love for Lara is what the novel revolves around, which is fuelled by passion and romanticism. Individualism can be defined as following the heart and behaving irrationally as opposed to acting rationally. Yuri’s love for Lara is an act of the heart and contradicts the general relation structure of this transitioning period of Russia. Yuri has a multifaceted and dynamic personality; he goes towards his passion but then realizes it is against his morals; hence he is torn between passion and principle. His constant attempts to exert himself as an individual prove to be fatal later on.
This statement is supported by the scene in the novel where Yuri kills many White soldiers despite his effort to control his emotions and avoid performing such an act. Yuri chooses his personal beliefs to be contrary to the principles of the Soviet ideology. Hence, it has proven to end in futility, and Yuri is terrified and demoralized by the incident. Pasternak ranges the individualism of Zhivago against the heartless society that is being erected by the Bolsheviks on the grave of Tsarist Russia. Where Zhivago questions him every deed from the standpoint of conscience, left-wing leaders like Lara’s husband, Pasha Antipov, who styles himself as Strelnikov or “Shooter,” kill without blinking or thinking. The individual was supreme in Russian Symbolism, both as a unique, creative being and representative of human emotions, dreams and values.
However, In the end, Yuri’s efforts to raise as an individual have been in vain. He would not be able to survive in the current Soviet period as a true individual due to the Revolution’s ignorance of the individual’s underlying character. Autocracy had won over freedom. Further, into the novel, we observe Pasternak’s ability to interlink several themes and illustrate one theme that stems from another theme. In the novel Dr.Zhivago, the psychological state of individualism in Yuri results in the sense of loneliness, which is the second major theme of the novel. Loneliness is seen throughout the novel portrayed by the characters discreetly, which is particularly observed in Yuri. During the great political transition during this time, we see that the root of all the inner and outer conflicts of this novel results from the human longing for companionship. Loneliness is an unpleasant affect, combining sadness and anxiety, a felt response to insufficient relational contact. Isolation is the condition of being separated from all important persons, things, and relationships.
To relate isolation and loneliness would say that if a person is isolated, he will experience loneliness. When the novel introduces Zhivago, he is being isolated from every direction, and he is being torn away from everything he knew and loved as he sits sobbing by his mother’s grave. Due to this isolation, Yuri begins to develop a sense of loneliness as readers notice the unbalance in his life and as he attempts to recreate or rediscover what he has lost. Yuri’s romantic relationships may stem from passion and romanticism. Still, the desperation of Yuri partially causes it as he looks for a maternal or “mother” figure, which is more aptly referred to as the feeling of female love and affection. However, his relationship with tonya does not arise from passion, and here, Tonya acts as a mother figure, which Yuri thought he lacked in his life. However, Yuri did not seem to have a romantic relationship with Tonya as he did with Lara. He feels loyal to Tonya but cannot find the eternal happiness that he sought and found later on with Lara.
His relationship with Lara had helped him deal with his loneliness. However, this relationship eventually comes to an end as well. As discussed above, Yuri is a poetic and sensitive man. His attitude stands in extreme contrast with the violence and brutality present during the Russian Revolution and the wars. This contrast between his sensitive, poetic nature and the dreadful events that destroyed his country further contributed to his isolation and loneliness. Zhivago and Pasha are both in love with the same woman. While Zhivago longs for human companionship, both desire the security and harmony of a steady home life, which is the motivating force behind their movement.
Pasternak uses a great deal of symbolism, which was a dominant literary technique in Russia when this novel was written, to illustrate Yuri’s complex thoughts and ideas of individualism and mysticism. For example, a lot has been discussed about the particular scene in the novel that depicts springtime. In this scene, the branches of the budding apples “miraculously” reach “over the fences into the streets.” This symbolism is used to describe how Yuri’s individual state of mind had reached out the “fences” of Soviet principles during the time of the Russian Revolution, instead of being just a vivid expression of the coming of spring. Furthermore, Pasternak utilizes this literary technique extensively in this novel to provide symbolism that contributes to the major themes of the novel.
During this transitional period of the Russian Revolution, individualism and individual thought and choice are suppressed, loneliness is observed everywhere, and both the young and the old cannot control their own lives. Pasternak’s remarkable work is centred around the distinguished Russian Doctor who was faced with impossible choices, torn between his passion and principle, forced to contradict his ethics and beliefs. Even the sensitive and poetic Dr. Zhivago is forced to kill several soldiers and abandon his true love in such a situation. Due to the great pain and suffering faced by the characters, this novel is a must-read. It is also because of Pasternak’s comprehensive skill to portray the inner conflicts of the human mind while maintaining a great love between two souls while managing to invoke feelings of loneliness. The novel Dr. Zhivago is a relentless struggle for control over the body, mind and soul.