Doctor Zhivago is an epic, a romance, and a history. It tells the story of Russian people forced to live through the many tragedies of the first half of the twentieth century, and it tells of the emotional trials of love in its most complicated forms. Yury Zhivago is a classic tragic hero, flawed in his inability to control his life and his loyalties but defined by a strong moral character and the desire to do right. The story of his life begins with misfortune; his parents both die when he is a child, and he is raised by his uncle. Later, he marries a friend for whom he has much affection, but he finds that he is drawn to another woman. He and his wife must struggle to survive under the threat of starvation and persecution, and he is forced to take part in the brutalities of war. He still finds himself longing for Lara, however, despite his feelings of loyalty toward Tonya.

In the course of Yury's life, the modern history of Russia is revealed. He is born under czarist rule but lives through World War I, the Revolution, and the Civil War. He begins life as the member of a wealthy family, but he is reduced to poverty by his father's alcoholism. He remains a member of the intelligentsia, and he focuses his attention on questions of philosophy and religion. The revolution changes the face of Russian society, and he finds that his family history and his status as a doctor make him suspicious to the people who come to power.

Yury seems destined for a tragic end, and, ultimately, his life is characterized by brief moments of happiness surrounded by periods of darkness. He finds all of his convictions challenged, and he cannot maintain his relationship with any of the women he loves. After his death, Yury leaves behind children born to three different women, all destined for different fates: exile, poverty, or uncertainty.

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