Family Matters: Literary Analysis of The Veldt and Heart of a Dog A family unit is like a fragile, expensive artifact. It can be absolutely beautiful, but it can also absolutely shatter into a million pieces if the wrong entity gets ahold of it. Sometimes, this critical entity that shatters it may be technology that has been used in the wrong ways. In both The Veldt, by Ray Bradbury, and Heart of a Dog, by Mikhail Bulgakov, the power of technology threatens to bring down the family unit as the reader commonly knows it.
The technology in each book first grows the idea of family, but ultimately ends up hurting the social dynamic of the family it had hoped to expand. These books explore the problems that technology causes that were originally trying to fix them. In this way, technology helped to support these families initially, but eventually knocked them down, shattering them hopelessly into the ground. In Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt, the Hadley family wanted technology to make their lives easier, more carefree, and as a life enhancer. They made their house do everything possible to mechanize ordinary household chores.
The “Happylife Home…clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them” (12) this indicated the attempt to create an environment that would be free of worries. The nursery, the dreamlike play place George Hadley had installed because “nothing is too good for our children” (14) was so amazing that George was “filled with admiration for the mechanical genius who had conceived this room” (15) In this sense, George was doing what he could for his family, trying to bring them closer by providing the means to a happier existence for his kids, as well as his wife.
With every chore taken care of, what worries could one possibly have? As the family would eventually find out, there were quite a few problems. Very quickly did this dreamlike world filled with easiness and carefree living come crashing down on the Hadley’s. With her regular duties such as cooking and cleaning taken up by the omnipresent house, Lydia Hadley was deprived of her usual sanity she finds in her chores. She vents about her replacement as a caretaker in the family when she states, “I feel like I don’t belong here. The house is wife and mother now, and nursemaid.
Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a bath and scrub the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic scrub bath can? I cannot. ” (16) While the house was designed to make Lydia’s home life much less stressful, she laments the fact that her place in the family has been overtaken by an inanimate object, and that she has lost all hope of connecting with her family. She is also not the only person whose role has changed via the house’s ‘do everything’ programming. Lydia comments on her husband’s nature by saying “You look as if you didn’t know what to do with yourself in this house, either.
You smoke a little more…drink a little more…need a sedative every night. You’re beginning to feel unnecessary too. ” (17) These mechanical tools that were intended to increase family bonding time by taking away chores have instead induced a sense of laziness. This was a critical step for the Hadley’s, replacing everyday work not with enriching playtime, but with sheer boredom, showing how this technology has worsened their conditions. The technology essentially replaced George and Lydia as parents and caretakers, setting the stage for a social upheaval in the family.
When the nursery was left to its own devices, the kids, Peter and Wendy, grew in power, seemingly overthrowing George and Lydia, ceasing to listen to them anymore. A chilling example of this is when George threatens to turn off the house and Peter coldly states, “I don’t think you’d better consider it any more, Father. ” To which George replies “I won’t have any threats from my son! ” (23) This shows how the power balance has shifted from the adults to the kids. Peter turns into a cold, mean-spirited son when George keeps threatening to turn off the house, boldly proclaiming “Oh, how I hate you…
I wish you were dead! ” (26) This is simply foreshadowing a few pages later when the kids lock George and Lydia into the nursery with the lions, to be brutally murdered. Over the course of just a short time, the reader witnesses how the technology of the house had overturned a seemingly happy family into a socially backward, messed up family. In Mikhail Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog, Philip Philippovich uses his surgical practices in order to create a family unit, which ultimately runs astray. Philippovich uses his technology on the dog Sharikov in order to transform he dog to a human and assert his dominance over this human that he creates. It is an incredible undertaking in technology that starts with a positive thought about creation, yet ends in pure misery and despair.
While Preobrazhensky may not have the stereotypical family situation, it can be argued that by asserting his status as master of Sharikov, Preobrazhensky was claiming his status as a father figure for Sharikov. One such time where Sharikov calls Philipovich his dad is during a meal in which Philipovich is being very impatient with Sharikov, and Sharikov retorts, saying “You’re getting too hard on my, dad. (70) While Philipovich gets very defensive about this statement, and doesn’t want to be called a dad, the fact that Sharikov even considers this a possibility is a huge telltale sign into their social structure of the home. It is also essentially the beginning of the end for their life as a family unit. While the technology of the surgery may have led to a creation of a family dynamic between Sharikov and Preobrazhensky, however, eventually this same dynamic eventually crashes, and the same technology used to create a human being to a dog, transforms that same human back into a dog.
This represents the dismantling of a family unit by the hands of the same technology that set it up in the first place. Philippovich has an epiphany near the end of the novel, realizing he does not need to be a creator, a father figure, when nature itself will take care of the creating. Preobrazhensky grumbles, “[The surgery] might be possible to turn a dog into a highly advanced human. But what the hell for? … Doctor, the human race takes care of this by itself, and every year, in the course of its evolution, it creates dozens of outstanding geniuses who adorn the earth, stubbornly selecting them out of the mass of scum” (103).
This is when he decides that the technology he has been using to create his family dynamic is essentially useless, and that the technology of the surgery only caused him more harm than good. In comparing these two books readers can see how the use of different forms of technology worked on each family unit in similar ways, leading to a destruction of family. In The Veldt, the Hadley family comes as an already established, traditional family structure, however, upon the introduction to technology seemingly falls apart at the seams. This is contrasted to the
Heart of a Dog, where the definition of family is slightly different. In this book, the reader can see how technology singlehandedly create and then pull apart a family structure, effectively showing the immense power that this technology has. In each book, however, we can see the huge difference that this technology makes on the family. The Veldt has a murderous ending which can be solely attributed to the new technological advances of the nursery. The Heart of a Dog displays a harsh yet familial father-son relationship that breaks down with the misuse of the powerful technology that created it.
Through these two novels the reader discovers how technology, when misused, can cause the serious destruction of family. Both Bradbury and Bulgakov challenge the notion that technology is always progressive in nature, and instead offer an alternative, showing how technology can instead break and crumble an important social institution. Both stories can be looked at as at one point incredible artifacts which, via the mistaken power of technology, collapsed onto themselves and shattered into mess.