As a funeral procession passes, people stop to ask who is being buried. They are told that the coffin belongs to Marya Nikolayevna Zhivago. The coffin is closed, nailed, and lowered into the ground, and as the mourners throw soil onto it, a young boy crawls on top of the mound. The boy, the dead woman's son, covers his face and bursts into sobs. His uncle, Nikolay Nikolayevich Vedenyapin (Kolya), comes to lead him away. That night it grows very cold and the boy, Yura, is woken by a knocking at the window and looks outside to see nothing but snow. He worries that his mother will sink deeper and deeper into the ground, and he starts to cry again. His uncle comes to comfort him and as it grows light, they dress for their train journey to a provincial town on the Volga.
While his mother was alive, Yura did not know that his father had left them and spent the family's fortune; he was always told that his father was away on business. When his mother developed consumption (tuberculosis), they traveled to France and Italy, where he was left with strangers and passed from house to house. He remembers a time in his early childhood when many places were named after his family, but then everything vanished and they became poor.
In 1903, two years after his mother's death, Yura drives across the fields in an open carriage with his Uncle Kolya and Pavel, a handyman, on his second visit to Duplyanka, an art patron's estate. They are going to meet with Ivan Ivanovich Voskoboynikov, a teacher and writer of textbooks, who lives there. Kolya asks Pavel about the land and the situation of the peasants as he reads Voskoboynikov's manuscript about the land question. Kolya reminds Yura of his mother, so he likes being with him. He also looks forward to seeing Nicky Dudorov, a schoolboy who lives at Duplyanka. He goes to look for Nicky as his uncle meets with Ivan, but he finds himself wandering through the gardens and becomes more and more depressed. He prays and calls out to his mother, fainting from the emotion. He wakes to his uncle calling him and remembers that he has not prayed for his missing father but decides that his father can wait.
In a second-class compartment of a train, Misha Gordon, an 11-year-old Jewish boy, is traveling with his father to Moscow, where his mother and sisters are preparing an apartment. On the way, a man commits suicide, and the train is delayed. Misha is shaken by the man's death, especially since the man had come several times to their compartment to speak to his father about bankruptcy law. Misha's father explains that the man was a well-known millionaire named Zhivago. His father then showered Misha with presents, the last of which was a wooden box of minerals from the Urals.
This first chapter serves primarily to introduce several characters and to establish early tension. The first image of the novel--Yura crying over his mother's grave--creates a sense of morbid expectation. The further knowledge of his father's lost fortune, revealed by the scene in the train, adds suspense. This suspense is compounded by the several shifts in time and location that occur. Pasternak draws the story line of Misha into the novel by describing Misha's boredom and irritability, together with his dissatisfaction at being Jewish. When the man who kills himself is revealed to be Zhivago, the realization is both a means of integrating the different story lines and establishing the time flow of the novel. It is clear that Zhivago had a story to tell and that it was closely linked to the lives of Yura and his mother, though he has not seen them for some time. Early on, Pasternak establishes a sense of things unraveling backward through time, by revealing details about the past as the action of the novel marches forward. /PARAGRAPH The novel begins in 1901, 16 years before the Russian Revolution. Land ownership is an important issue for intellectuals such as Kolya, who is also a former member of the Russian Orthodox Church. The discussion about land reform weighs heavily on their minds and takes place on the country estate of an aristocratic patron of the arts. Kolya is described as a future famous writer, and it is important to note the future that Russia and its upper class were soon to face--one in which people like the Zhivago's were to lose their possessions and their status under the new Socialist system.