Study Guide

Doctor Zhivago Part 1: The Five O'Clock Express

By Boris Pasternak

Part 1: The Five O'Clock Express

Part 1, Chapter 1

  • We open with a funeral.
  • Yup, it's a sad day somewhere in Russia, especially for the Zhivago family. The person who has died is a woman named Marya Nikolaevna, and she has left behind a young son named Yuri. As you can imagine, the poor little boy is devastated at her death.
  • This scene ends with little Yuri's uncle Nikolai, a former priest, walking up to him and leading him out of the cemetery. It turns out that this dude will be the one to take care of Yuri from now on.

Part 1, Chapter 2

  • Yuri travels with his uncle to an old monastery and stays the night there.
  • During the night, Yuri's awakened by the sound of a storm outside. Glancing out a window, he begins to think that the storm somehow knows that he is watching it. We can see already that Yuri has some sort of mystical closeness with nature.
  • Staring outside, Yuri realizes that the falling snow is burying his mother deeper and deeper underground. He starts crying until his uncle wakes up and comforts him. It's time for the two of them to get going again.

Part 1, Chapter 3

  • At the beginning of this chapter, we find out that Yuri's father Andrei Zhivago deserted him and his mother some time ago. Andrei Zhivago was born into a rich family but squandered his inheritance; he was a drinker, a gambler, and an all-around bad dude.
  • Yuri doesn't know or understand what his father has done. His mom always told him that his father was away at a fair. Yikes, that's a tough lie to keep up for years on end.
  • Shortly after her husband left her, Yuri's mom caught tuberculosis and started needing constant medical attention. During these years, Yuri became used to following her around.
  • For Yuri, it was strange growing up in a world where lots of things had his family name on them (his ancestors were rich), even though he and his mother were dirt poor.

Part 1, Chapter 4

  • In the summer of 1903, Yuri and his uncle ride in a carriage to an estate named Duplyanka, which is owned by a silk merchant named Kologrivov. And yes, there are plenty of more difficult Russian names to memorize in this book, folks, so get used to it.
  • As part of the trip, Uncle Nikolai has brought along some pages for a publisher friend to look at. He has been writing about land reform in Russia and has been told a couple of times to change his writing to avoid getting into political trouble.
  • Nikolai mentions how some of the Russian people are starting to riot. Little Yuri admires his uncle's fierce intelligence and his ability to think for himself.

Part 1, Chapter 5

  • Uncle Nikolai sits with a friend, hammering out the phrasing for some of the rewrites in his book. It's clear that they're talking about the problem of poverty in Russia.
  • The owner of the estate they're staying in, Kologrivov, is a rich guy. But he has a lot of sympathy for the poor and is a bit of a Marxist. In other words, he doesn't really believe that he should have so much wealth while other people are so poor.
  • While walking with his friend, Uncle Nikolai says that the art being produced in Russia isn't as good as it used to be, because it's all about schools and movements. He believes that only solitary individuals can create great art. Schools and movements are just factories of mediocre work.
  • While Nikolai and his friend stare off at a distant train, they realize that the train has come to a stop at a place it's not supposed to. They figure something must be wrong with it.

Part 1, Chapter 6

  • Yuri wanders around the estate while his uncle is off chatting with his buddy.
  • The place is magical to Yuri, who has grown up poor and who can't believe how large the place is.
  • While Yuri wanders, though, he keeps thinking that he hears his mother's voice in the hum of the bees or the swaying of the trees.
  • Overcome with grief, Yuri collapses at the bottom of a ravine and prays to God to tell his mother that he's going to be okay.

Part 1, Chapter 7

  • Now we're riding on a train with an eleven-year-old kid named Misha Gordon. Misha is sitting and wondering why the world around him dislikes Jewish people so much, especially when Jewish people seem pretty much the same as anyone else to him.
  • We also find out that Misha's train has stopped because someone has jumped out of it and killed himself. Hey, is this the same stopped train that Uncle Nikolai saw from the top of the hill in the last chapter?
  • Standing over the body of the dead person is a stout, arrogant lawyer who was apparently riding next to the dead guy. The lawyer is trying to tell everyone around him that the man killed himself because of a fit brought on by alcoholism.
  • It turns out that the man who committed suicide came into Misha's train compartment several times during the long journey and chatted for hours with Misha's father about legal things like bankruptcy law. Misha's father's responses kept surprising the person, who always insisted that his own lawyer had given him very different answers to the same questions.
  • Each time the guy came by to chat, though, his lawyer would come drag him away to get drunk in the dining car.
  • The train finally starts up again, leaving the dead man with the local authorities. Misha's father tells Misha that the dead man was once very wealthy but squandered his money. Does that ring any bells for anyone?

Part 1, Chapter 8

  • We look in on a fourteen-year-old boy named Nika, who is staying at the same estate as Yuri Zhivago.
  • Nika just wants to be alone, so he hides under a bed while people look for him. It turns out that Nika's father, Dudorov, is serving hard labor as a convicted terrorist.
  • Nika goes out in a boat with a girl named Nadya and starts picking water lilies. While they're doing this, he talks about how he wants to go out into the world and make money like a man.
  • Nadya talks down to him because he's a year younger than she is, and the two eventually get into a wrestling match that sends both of them tumbling out of the boat.