Pasternak’s novel, Doctor Zhivago, follows the life of the protagonist, Yurii Andreievich, who lives through the tumultuous changes that occurs in Russia during the early 20th century. The actions of the government and political affairs serve as the backdrop for the plot of the story. The war changes the behavior of the characters, makes life seem more chaotic, and the struggle for survival takes over all other aspects of life.
Strelnikov, formerly called Pasha, is one example of a character whose mentality was completely altered due to the consequences of war. Pasha was once a naï¿½ve young boy who later becomes a ruthless and violent leader known as Strelnikov. Soon after conversing with Yurii and traveling through Yuriatin, where he used to live, Strelnikov thought to himself: “Suppose his wife and daughter were still there! Couldn’t he go to them? . . . Yes, but how could he? They belonged to another life. First he must see this one through, this new life. . .” (253) He becomes so occupied and obsessed with war and politics that he believes that he must live up to his notorious reputation as an aggressive military soldier before even thinking about returning back to his family. Another character whose life is altered due to the political upheaval in Russia is Pamphil. “His constant fear for his family in the event of his own death rose to a new climax. . . In his desperate anguish . . . he killed them himself, felling his wife and three children with the same . . . ax that he had used to carve toys .”(370) Pamphil, once a sensitive and caring family man, resorted to murdering the ones he loved most out of pain and torment.Order now
Government and politics not only affected the individual lives of the Russians, but also the society as a whole. A prime example in the novel that illustrates the chaotic nature of the Russian society in this time period is during the train journey, where various societal classes were clustered together in the same cars: “They were a remarkable sight – rich, smart lawyers and stockbrokers . . . side by side with cab drivers, floor polishers, bath attendants, Tartar ragpickers, escaped lunatics, shopkeepers, and monks, all lumped in with the exploiting classes.” This scene is significant because it represents the entire political order of Russia during that time – full of confusion and uncertainty. The striking contrast that this scene illustrates symbolizes the new, disordered society where class and social ranks are no longer significant.
With such confusion and chaos caused by the rapidly changing political system in Russia, the need for survival becomes eminent. When Yurii returns back to Moscow, he finds his home life to be drastically changed. When Sashenka got sick, Yurii and Tanya found it difficult to attend to their child’s needs. “They needed milk, mineral water, or soda water for him. But the street fighting was at its height. Gun and rifle fire never ceased . . . if Yurii Andreivich had crossed the battle zone . . ., he would not have found anyone about in the streets beyond it. All life in the city was suspended until the situation would be definitively clarified.” (191) War, government, and politics has taken over their lives and finding the means for survival becomes more and more difficult as tension arises. The last sentence, “All life in the city was suspended,” portrays the extent to which the lives of the citizens were affected by all the political turmoil going on.
The government and the political changes complicate everything for the Russian citizens, completely altering their course of life. They find it difficult to survive, individuals are forced to reconsider their values, and societal order turns into chaos. Through the characters and events that take place, the readers are able to realize the sudden and rapid transformation of the country’s political order and the effects the wars and revolutions have upon the Russians.