Study Guide

Doctor Zhivago Madness

By Boris Pasternak


When people tell you they're going crazy, you usually hope it's just a figure of speech. But in Doctor Zhivago, you can never be too sure. Once the Russian Revolution gets into full swing, it becomes really tough to tell the difference between sanity and insanity, because everywhere you look, people are getting killed for what they believe—or for what they don't believe. In this kind of atmosphere, it can be really tough for individual people to keep their heads together and make sane decisions, as we find out more than once in Pasternak's novel.

Questions About Madness

  1. In your opinion, do any of the characters in this book display full-blown insanity? If so, which ones and why?
  2. Do you think it's possible for an entire country to become "mad" during a revolution, or is this more of a figure of speech?
  3. What do you make of Zhivago's mental health? When he starts to deteriorate toward the end of the book and leaves his family, do you think he's in his right mind? Why or why not?

Chew on This

Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago shows us that madness is a totally subjective term that society uses to help it ignore people who are different.

In Doctor Zhivago, we find that sometimes acting insane is the only way to reveal the lies that society has come to accept as true.