[Paleopsych] eNotes: Mikhail Bulgakov: Master and Margarita
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Mikhail Bulgakov: Master and Margarita
[I have just finished this masterpiece of Soviet literature and thank
Nancy for giving it to me to celebrate my abandoning reality when I turned
sixty. As you will see, the novel is immensely complex and takes place on
three levels of reality. I wish I had had this guide book when I started
the novel. Here it is, and I recommend your using it when you read the
novel for yourself. I think, though, that Soviet music, esp. that of
Shostakovich, confers for me greater insights into human nature than the
literature does. I ask for an evaluation from Soviet experts about the
literary merits of the work.]
Table of Contents
1. Master and Margarita: Introduction
2. Mikhail Bulgakov Biography
3. One-Page Summary
4. Summary and Analysis
8. Historical Context
9. Critical Overview
10. Character Analysis
11. Essays and Criticism
12. Suggested Essay Topics
13. Sample Essay Outlines
14. Compare and Contrast
15. Topics for Further Study
16. Media Adaptations
17. What Do I Read Next?
18. Bibliography and Further Reading
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is considered one of the best
and most highly regarded novels to come out of Russia during the Soviet
era. The book weaves together satire and realism, art and religion,
history and contemporary social values. It features three story lines. The
main story, taking place in Russia of the 1930s, concerns a visit by the
devil, referred to as Professor Woland, and four of his assistants during
Holy Week; they use black magic to play tricks on those who cross their
paths. Another story line features the Master, who has been languishing in
an insane asylum, and his love, Margarita, who seeks Woland's help in
being reunited with the Master. A third story, which is presented as a
novel written by the Master, depicts the crucifixion of Yeshua Ha-Notsri,
or Jesus Christ, by Pontius Pilate.
Using the fantastic elements of the story, Bulgakov satirizes the greed
and corruption of Stalin's Soviet Union, in which people's actions were
controlled as well as their perceptions of reality. In contrast, he uses a
realistic style in telling the story of Yeshua. The holy life led by
Christ in this book is more ordinary than the miraculous one told in the
Scriptures. Because the book derides government bureaucracy and
corruption, the manuscript of The Master and Margarita was hidden for over
twenty years, until the more lenient Khrushchev government allowed its
2. AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY
In his final weeks, as he lay dying of nephrosclerosis, Mikhail Bulgakov
continued to dictate changes for The Master and Margarita to his wife. He
had been working on the book for twelve years, through eight versions, and
he meant it to be his literary legacy.
Bulgakov was born in Kiev on May 3, 1891. His father was a professor at
the Kiev Theological Seminary, an influence that appears in the novel
through mentions of the history and philosophy of religious matters.
Bulgakov graduated with distinction from the University of Kiev, and after
attaining his medical degree from St. Vladimir's University, he went into
the army, which sent him to a small town in the province of Smolensk. It
was 1916, and Russia was involved in the First World War. The
autobiographical stories in Bulgakov's collection A Country Doctor's
Notebooks are based on his experiences in Smolensk.
Bulgakov returned to Kiev in 1918, but was drafted into the White Army to
fight in Russia's civil war against the communist Red Army. On a train
trip home from Northern Caucasus, where the army had sent him, he sat up
all night writing his first short story, and when the train stopped he
took the story to the local newspaper office, which promptly published it.
The following year, 1920, Bulgakov gave up medicine and moved to Moscow to
write full time. He had several books published and several plays
produced. His greatest success was the play Days of the Turbins, which was
his adaptation for the stage of his own novel The White Guard. The story
features a family that suffers at the hands of the Communists during the
revolution, a depiction that would earn Bulgakov the suspicion of the
Communists, who by then controlled the government. Despite the Communist
reaction, Soviet Union audiences would applaud the play. From 1925 to
1928, the author was affiliated with the Moscow Arts Theater, where he had
an uneasy relationship with the theater's founder and director, Konstatin
Stanislavsky, who is known today for developing the theatrical technique
referred to as "Method acting."
In 1929, the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers became the
official government agency overseeing the political content of literary
works. Bulgakov found himself unable to publish because his ideologies did
not conform to those of the Communists. In frustration, he burned many of
his manuscripts in 1930. He wrote an appeal directly to Joseph Stalin, the
secretary general of the Communist Party and leader of the country. Stalin
had been a fan of Days of the Turbins, and by his order Bulgakov was
reinstated into the Art Theater. For the next ten years, Bulgakov wrote,
directed, and sometimes acted, and he worked on The Master and Margarita.
Upon his death in 1940, he instructed his wife to hide the manuscript of
The Master and Margarita because he was afraid that it would be
confiscated and destroyed by government censors. It was not published for
another twenty-seven years, when the government of the Soviet Union had
become more open to intellectual differences to the party line. Until the
publication of The Master and Margarita in an English translation in 1967,
few people outside of the Soviet Union had ever heard of Bulgakov. In
subsequent years, his other novels, short stories, plays, essays, and his
autobiography have been published, as well as numerous publications about
his life and works.
3. ONE-PAGE SUMMARY
Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is split into three different, yet
intertwined, versions of reality: events in presen-tday Moscow, including
the adventures of satanic visitors, events concerning the crucifixion of
Yeshua Ha-Notsri, or Jesus Christ, in first-century Yershalaim, and the
love story of the Master and Margarita.
Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz, an important literary figure, and Ivan
Nikolayevich Ponyryov, a poet who is also known as Bezdomny, which means
"homeless," meet at Patriarch's Ponds to discuss a commissioned poem that
Berlioz had asked Ivan to pen. Berlioz would like Ivan to rewrite the poem
because he believes the poem makes Jesus too real. He goes on to explain
why he believes Jesus never existed, providing Ivan with a brief history
of religion. Berlioz is eventually interrupted by a mysterious man named
Professor Woland, who assures them that Jesus did indeed exist. When
Berlioz objects, Woland begins the story of Pontius Pilate, but not before
he tells Berlioz he will be decapitated before the day is out.
The story shifts to Yershalaim, where Pilate is hearing Yeshua's case.
Yeshua is accused of inciting the people to burn down the temple, as well
as advocating the overthrow of Emperor Tiberius. Pilate is forced to try
him, and Yeshua is sentenced to death. Back in Moscow, Berlioz is indeed
later decapitated by a streetcar. After Berlioz is killed, Ivan confronts
and chases Woland and his gang-- a choirmaster, Korovyov, and a huge
tomcat, Behemoth--through the streets to no avail. When he tries to relate
the happenings of the day, he is taken to the asylum.
Part 2 Thursday
Styopa Likhodeyev, Berlioz's flat mate and director of the Variety
Theater, awakes with a hangover to find Woland waiting for him. Woland
apprises Likhodeyev that he has agreed to let Woland make seven
performances of black magic at his theater. Likhodeyev does not remember
having made this agreement. Contracts do contain Likhodeyev's signature;
it seems that Woland is manipulating the situation, but Likhodeyev is
bound to the agreement. Once a dazed Likhodeyev realizes that he must
allow Woland to perform, Woland introduces the theater director to his
entourage--Behemoth, Korovyov, and the singlefanged Azazello--and
announces that they need apartment number 50, which has a reputation for
being cursed (tenants of the apartment usually end up missing after a
while). It is revealed that Woland and his group do not think highly of
Styopa; they believe people like him in high places are scoundrels.
Styopa soon finds himself transported to Yalta. The satanic gang spread
mayhem throughout the building, and the manager has foreign planted on him
and is taken away by the police. The manager of the Variety Theater, Ivan
Savelyevich Varenukha, attempts to find Styopa, who has been sending
desperate telegrams from Yalta. At the same time, he, with the help of
others, is trying to ascertain the identity of the mysterious Woland. To
prevent inquiries by Varenukha, Woland sends a new infernal creature,
Hella, to Varenukha, and she turns him into a vampire.
At the Variety Theater, Woland and his entourage give a black magic
performance, during which the master of ceremonies is decapitated, and
bewitched money--which later turns into bottle labels, kittens, and sundry
objects--is rained over the crowd. Meanwhile, back at the asylum, Ivan
meets his neighbor--the hero of the tale, the Master. He tells him about
the previous day's events, and the Master assures him that Woland is
Satan. The Master then tells him about his own life. He is an aspiring
novelist and married, but he reveals he is in love with his "secret wife,"
Margarita, who is also married. His novel--the Pontius Pilate story--was
their obsession, but critics lambasted it after it was offered for
publication. Maddened, the Master had burned the manuscript, and ended up
at the asylum.
Later, Ivan dreams the next part of Pilate's story: Condemned men are
walking to their executions;
Matvei watches them hang and feels responsible. Then he grows angry and
curses God. A storm comes, and the prisoners are put humanely to death by
a guard stabbing them under the pre-text of giving them water.
Part 3 Friday
Woland and his group are still wreaking havoc in Moscow, and Margarita is
pining over her love, the Master, and she rereads what is left of the
Master's novel. She then goes to a park where she sees Berlioz's funeral
and meets Azazello, who sets up a meeting between Margarita and Woland. He
also gives Margarita some cream, telling her it will make her feel better.
After she smears the cream over her body, she becomes a witch. Azazello
contacts her and tells her to fly to the river for the meeting with
Woland. She flies naked over the city and, on the way, destroys the critic
Latunsky's apartment for he had been the one who ruined the Master. Her
maid Natasha, now a witch, and Nikolai Ivanovich, now a pig, join her
after using the cream. They meet Woland and his followers, and Satan's
ball takes place with Margarita as the hostess. A parade of both famous
and commonplace evil people attend, and the ball climaxes with the murder
of Baron Maigel. Margarita drinks blood, and opens her eyes to find the
ball is over. Woland grants Margarita a wish for being the hostess of the
ball. She chooses to be reunited with her lover, the Master. He soon
appears before Margarita. The Master is confused at first, but he soon
realizes that he is reunited with the woman he loves. Woland also has a
copy of the Master's entire manuscript even though the Master had burned
it, and he gives it to the Master. He then returns the Master and
Margarita and other characters, including Nikolai Ivanovich and Varenukha,
back to their lives as they wish. Natasha however chooses to remain a
The Pilate story continues and Pilate meets with the chief of the secret
police, Afranius. He pre-monishes that Judas of Kerioth, the man who
betrayed Yeshua, will be murdered, and indeed, he is later lured outside
of the city and murdered. Afranius reports the murder of Kerioth to
Pilate, as well as the burial of the criminals. In a conversation with
Levi (who was found to have taken Yeshua's body after the execution),
Pilate reveals that it was he who killed Kerioth.
Part 4 Saturday
An investigation into the strange events incited by Woland and his group
begins, while Ivan is possessed by visions of Pilate and the bald hill on
which Yeshua and the two other criminals had been executed. A shoot-out
occurs in apartment number 50 between the investigators and Behemoth, but,
surprisingly, no one is hurt. Instead, the building burns. Behemoth and
Korovyov continue to perform more pranks that leave many areas of Moscow
Levi comes to Woland with a message from Yeshua: he requests that Woland
give the Master "peace." Woland agrees, and Azazello gives poisoned wine
to the Master and Margarita. Their bodies die and the couple flies off
with the infernal creatures, who, as they fly, return to their real
figures. They soon come upon a man and his dog. Woland states that the man
is the hero of the Master's novel: Pontius Pilate. He claims that Pilate
has been sitting in the same spot for the past two thousand years with his
dog, Banga. The Master is allowed to set Pilate free from his immortal
insomnia by creating and stating the final line of his novel; he yells,
"Free! Free! He is waiting for you!" Pilate and Banga are finally able to
leave their static existence and be with Yeshua. The Master and Margarita
are not given enlightenment, but they are allowed to spend the rest of
eternity together in a small cottage.
4. SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS
Summary and Analysis: Chapter 1
Ivan: A poet writing under the pseudonym "Homeless."
Berlioz: The chairman of the Massolit literary association and the editor
of a literary journal.
Professor (also known as "Consultant," and "Woland"): A foreigner recently
arrived in Moscow later to be revealed as the devil.
Annushka: The woman who spills sunflower oil and causes Berlioz's death.
Citizen with Checkered Jacket (also known as "Koroviev," "the
choirmaster," and "Fagott"): Initially a phantasm seen by Berlioz, he is
later to be revealed as Woland's accomplice.
Berlioz and Ivan appear at Moscow's Patriarch's Ponds as the spring sun
sets and sit down at a food stand along the oddly desolate walk running
parallel to Malaya Bronnaya Street. After they drink apricot soda, Berlioz
feels a spasm in his heart and perceives "a blunt needle lodged in it,"
and is gripped with a worrisome fear. A tall, transparent citizen dressed
in a short checkered jacket appears briefly, striking further terror in
him. But Berlioz calms down to talk with Ivan about the poem about Jesus
that Ivan has written for the next issue of a journal edited by Berlioz.
Berlioz points out that Ivan, who has adopted the literary pseudonym
"Homeless," has concentrated on portraying Jesus as a bad person, whereas
he should have focused on portraying the fabricated existence of Jesus as
As Berlioz starts telling Ivan about other mythological gods with the same
characteristics as Jesus, a man who is about 40 years old, of foreign
appearance and wearing grey shoes and a matching grey suit, appears on the
walk. He is carrying a stick with a black knob shaped like a poodle's
head, and his teeth are covered by "platinum crowns on the left side and
gold on the right." He joins Ivan and Berlioz's conversation, speaking
Russian with a clean foreign accent. As he queries them about religion,
both men confirm they are atheists. The foreign man asks more questions,
mentioning the inability of man to predict the future and, as examples of
this inability, points out to Berlioz that sometimes men get cancer or
slip under tram-cars.
Berlioz becomes suspicious of the foreigner, who predicts that Berlioz
will be decapitated. He also predicts that Berlioz will not make the
evening meeting at Massolit, a Soviet literary association, because
Annushka has already bought and spilled the sunflower oil. Berlioz, who is
the chairman of Massolit, asks the man, who has a card identifying himself
as a professor, who he is. The professor says he is a German and is in
Moscow to serve as a consultant. He claims to be using his skills as a
polyglot who specializes in black magic to sort through some manuscripts
of Gerbert of Aurillace, a tenth-century necromancer. This professor
insists that Jesus did exist, and he begins telling a story about Jesus
and Pontius Pilate.
The epigram from Goethe's play, Faust, that opens Master and Margarita
suggests that Goethe provided at least some of Bulgakov's inspiration, and
indeed, some parallels with that play will appear in this novel.
Bulgakov's novel was written in the 1930s, a time of great repression and
hardship in the Soviet Union under Stalin. The repressive and controlling
atmosphere of that Communist state, with its extensive use of secret
police, informers, spies, public denunciations, and threats to subdue
citizens and coerce them into obeying the government, is evident
throughout much of the novel. The novel itself, opening with the two odd
and somewhat surreal elements of the vacant walkway and the stand selling
only apricot soda, begins on a skewed note. Berlioz's pang of fear and
vision of the citizen in the checkered jacket continues the odd feeling,
but also adds a sense of foreboding: it seems something is dangerously
awry in Moscow.
When the foreigner arrives and begins talking with Berlioz and Ivan about
the existence or nonexistence of Jesus and God, he is essentially
questioning the official atheism that makes up one of the basic beliefs of
the Soviet state. When he points out that men often don't know what
they'll be doing in a few hours, he is also questioning the central
planning that organized and controlled much of Soviet life. These two
factors help explain Ivan and Berlioz's bewildered response to the
professor. As the professor begins telling his story, he has already
thrown the two men off guard and has effectively begun to undermine two of
the principle tenets of the Soviet Union.
Summary and Analysis: Chapter 2
Pontius Pilate: The fifth Roman procurator of Judea.
Mark Ratslayer: A Roman centurion.
Yeshua: A philosopher who has been arrested by the Romans for potentially
Matthew Levi: One of Yeshua's followers.
Joseph Kaifa: The high priest of the Jews and president of the Sanhedrin.
Hooded Man (also known as "Aphranius"): A man who meets Pilate; he is
later revealed as the head of the Roman secret police in Judea.
The professor continues his story, which begins with Pontius Pilate, the
procurator of Judea, sitting in the "colonnade between the two wings of
the palace of Herod the Great" early in the morning on the day before
Passover. The weary Pilate is hounded by the smell of rose oil and must
confirm the death sentence the accused man, Yeshua, faces. Two
legionnaires bring in Yeshua, who is about 27 years old and dressed in an
old chiton. Pilate begins interrogating Yeshua but, angered at being
called "good man" by him, orders the centurion Mark Ratslayer to teach
Yeshua a lesson. Mark Ratslayer whips Yeshua and tells him to call Pilate
solely by the name "Hegemon." Yeshua returns to Pilate and tells Pilate
his name and that he comes from Gamala, which is in the north of Judea.
Yeshua lacks a permanent home, does not know who his parents are, and has
no family. Despite Pilate's accusations, Yeshua denies calling for the
temple building to be destroyed. He also says Matthew Levi, a former tax
collector, ascribes false statements to Yeshua in his writings on his
goatskin parchment. Nonetheless, Matthew Levi is Yeshua's faithful
The sick Pontius Pilate briefly longs for poison, then asks Yeshua, "What
is truth?" Yeshua responds by saying the truth is that Pilate is sick and
thinks of death, but he adds, "[Y]our suffering will soon be over." Yeshua
tells Pilate to get out of his palace and go for a walk with him. Pilate
orders his hands to be unbound, and as their conversation proceeds, Yeshua
denies he is a physician and proclaims, "[T]here are no evil people in the
world." Pilate concludes that Yeshua is mentally ill and, instead of being
executed, will be put under confinement at Pilate's residence in
Stratonian Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea. After reading a document on
Yeshua, Pilate's skin turns brown, his eyes sink, and he has a vision of
Yeshua's head being replaced by the head of the former Roman emperor
Tiberius. Pilate quickly thinks "I'm lost!" and "We're lost!" He recovers
and, looking sharply at Yeshua, asks him if he has said anything against
the great Caesar. In response, Yeshua says that he told Judas of Kiriath,
just before being arrested, that "all authority is violence over people,"
and when the kingdom of truth and justice comes, authority will disappear.
An outraged Pilate confirms Yeshua's death sentence. He orders two
centuries of Roman soldiers to transport Yeshua, as well as two other
condemned men, to Bald Mountain to be executed. They leave, and Pilate
meets with the high priest of the Jews, Joseph Kaifa, and informs Kaifa of
Yeshua's confirmed death sentence. However, he gives Kaifa the option of
releasing Yeshua or another prisoner, Bar-Rabban, in honor of the Passover
feast. Kaifa says Bar-Rabban will be released. Kaifa and Pilate then
dispute Kaifa's decision and debate the general relations between Romans
and Jews. They manage to reconcile though, and Pilate goes up to a
platform to tell a crowd of Jews that Bar-Rabban is being released. The
three condemned men are taken toward Bald Mountain and, at around 10 A.M.,
Pilate heads toward the gates that lead into the palace garden.
The story of Yeshua and Pilate in Yershalaim, although clearly derived
from the Gospel accounts of Jesus's life, departs from the Gospels in many
ways, especially in the long focus on Pilate. His weariness, agony, and
authority contrast with Yeshua's humbleness, plain speech, and gentleness.
Pilate's conversation with Yeshua is punctuated by Pilate's vision of
Tiberius' sickly head and a sense of being lost and living an agonizing
immortality. Pilate's change after this vision is expressed in his vow to
punish Yeshua with death and his denial that "the kingdom of truth will
come." Pilate has chosen power over truth, and after dismissing Yeshua he
enters into negotiations of power with Kaifa. Pilate proclaims to the
public, in a theatrical show of power disguised as mercy, that Bar-Rabban,
not Yeshua, will be spared execution. Nonetheless, Pilate is afraid up
until the time the condemned men are removed from his sight, and when his
sense of anguish recurs, he is overwhelmed by impotence. Pilate's royal
powers have done nothing to allay his weariness and fear of death. He is
trapped, and rather than prolong his talk with Yeshua, who might have led
him out of his trap, he has condemned Yeshua. Yeshua had pointed out that
his own hair did not come from Pilate, and Pilate responded by threatening
that he "can cut that hair"; in the same spirit, Pilate rejects the
arrival of the kingdom of truth and calls out "Criminal!" to his staff in
a weak voice "cracked with commanding."
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 3-4
Black Cat (also known as "Behemoth"): A cat who boards the tram-car; he is
to be revealed as a member of Woland's retinue.
The professor has concluded his narrative, and evening has come to the
Patriarch's Ponds. He declares that he was present for the entire story he
has related to Berlioz and Ivan. Berlioz patronizes the professor, whom he
takes for a mad German, but the professor predicts that he will be living
in Berlioz's apartment shortly. The three men talk about the existence of
the devil before Berlioz heads to the tram-car station at Bronnaya to
report the professor to the foreigners' bureau. Before reaching the
turnstile at the station, he sees the same citizen he had seen before,
only now the citizen wears checkered trousers. A tram-car comes along,
Berlioz loses his footing on the cobbles by the turnstile, and his head is
severed by the tram-car when he falls on the rails.
Ivan rushes to the turnstile in response to the accident and hears a woman
say that Annushka broke a liter-bottle of sunflower oil on the turnstile.
Remembering the professor's prophecy, he rushes back to find him and sees
the professor, along with the citizen Berlioz had seen, who is now called
"the choirmaster" and wears a pince-nez with a cracked lens. The professor
tells an angry Ivan he doesn't speak Russian, and the choirmaster blocks
Ivan, then vanishes. Ivan looks into the distance to see the professor,
the choirmaster, and a huge whiskered black cat by the exit to Patriarch's
Lane. Ivan chases after the trio, but they split up and slip away. Once
Ivan realizes he won't be able to catch any of them, he also realizes how
little time the chase took. Concluding that he can find the professor in
house 13, apartment 47, which is located on a lane near Arbat Square, he
goes there and is let into the apartment by a silent little girl. Ivan
goes into the bathroom to catch the professor but instead encounters a
naked woman in the bathtub. He retreats to the kitchen, where he sees a
dozen small primus stoves, two candles, and two icons. Ivan takes a candle
and the icon that is made of paper and goes out into the lane. He
concludes the professor is at the Moscow River and, upon reaching the
river, he begins swimming in it. Not finding the professor there either,
he comes out to find his clothes have been stolen by the man he asked to
guard them. His Massolit identification card is also gone, and Ivan
dresses in a torn Tolstoy blouse and a pair of striped drawers left by the
thief. Ivan decides to run to Griboedov's, where he will surely find the
The professor's story entrances Ivan and Berlioz despite their avowal that
Jesus's existence is made up. Although Berlioz continues to patronize the
professor, his bewilderment before having his head cut off by the tram-car
again shows that there is something about the professor that cannot be
dismissed. The fruition of his prophecy confirms that the novel's
characters should not take this man lightly. The checkered man, now called
a choirmaster, is also in on the nefarious deed. Although the cat causes
Ivan astonishment, the fantastic speed of his chase and assumption that he
will find the professor in apartment 47 or Griboedov's are also
astonishing. The novel has firmly established its bizarre, surreal
atmosphere. Meanwhile, the earlier talk of religion, together with the
prophecy's fruition, the Pilate story, and Ivan's inexplicable decision to
take the paper icon, hint at a deeper message and an allegorical meaning
to this novel.
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 5-6
Riukhin: A poet who helps bring Ivan into the psychiatric clinic.
Zheldybin: Berlioz's assistant, who receives and spreads the news of
Doctor (also known as Dr. Stravinsky): The head doctor of the Moscow
Griboedov's, a restaurant on the ground floor of The House of Griboedov,
is known as the best restaurant in Moscow. The house serves as a club for
Massolit, a Moscow literary organization. The club itself is very cozy and
plush, but the restaurant, with its reasonable prices and superb menu, is
the club's greatest feature. On this night, 12 writers have gathered for
the meeting Berlioz would be attending if he were not dead. It is nearing
11:00 P.M., and the impatient writers, who had expected the meeting to
start at 10 o'clock, grumble impatiently before going down to the
restaurant at midnight. Meanwhile, Berlioz's assistant, Zheldybin, is
given the news of Berlioz's death and goes to visit the head and body laid
out on two separate tables. At midnight, "a handsome dark-eyed man with a
dagger-like beard" who looks like a Caribbean pirate enters the
restaurant. The news of Berlioz's death spreads through Griboedov's at the
same time, and shortly thereafter Ivan runs onto the restaurant's veranda.
Ivan, carrying the candle and with the icon pinned to the breast of his
blouse, starts looking for the professor and reveals that the professor
has killed Berlioz. However, no one believes this story and the diners,
concluding he is insane, capture Ivan. The pirate dismisses the
restaurant's doorman for letting Ivan in, and Ivan is carried to a truck,
which will take him to a psychiatric clinic located on the banks of a
river outside of Moscow.
At 1:30 A.M., a doctor arrives in the examining room to meet Ivan. The
poet Riukhin, who had helped carry Ivan into the truck, tells the doctor
what Ivan has done. Ivan, though, complains that he's been mistreated and
is perfectly sane, adding a denunciation of Riukhin as "a typical little
kulak." The doctor and Riukhin listen to Ivan narrate the encounter with
the professor before Ivan is manhandled by some orderlies. The doctor,
suspecting Ivan has schizophrenia, orders Ivan to be put in room 117 and
assigned a nurse. The truck takes Riukhin back to Moscow, and a
disconsolate Riukhin returns to Griboedov's to drink vodka by himself.
The pleasures provided at Griboedov's, the home of Massolit, are a sample
of the privileges available to artists who comply with the Soviet
authorities. However, the disgruntlement among those waiting for Berlioz
indicates that not all Massolit members are equal, and the Soviet ideal of
a classless society has not been realized. The refusal to take Ivan's
story seriously is not surprising, but it recalls the earlier statement
that Berlioz was not used to seeing extraordinary phenomena. It seems
either Communism or literary success has dulled the Massolit members'
sense of the unusual and inexplicable.
So the only apparent option is to remove Ivan to the psychiatric clinic on
the outskirts of Moscow, where he can be treated in isolation. Ivan's
statement that the icon scared the professor and his comrades hints that
the professor may be demonic, but even Ivan isn't able to consider that
possibility. Riukhin, who briefly wonders if Ivan is really quite sane and
questions the value of his own poems, weakens and rapidly ages, but he
dismisses his trembling and concern for Ivan and instead drinks vodka and
forgets his problems. This is in contrast to Ivan, who is shunned by
Massolit and must still face his problems alone in the clinic.
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 7-8
Styopa Likhodeev: The director of the Variety Theatre, he is also
Rimsky: The financial director of the Variety Theatre.
Azazello: The third member of the Professor's retinue.
The chapter opens by introducing Styopa Likhodeev, Berlioz's co-tenant in
apartment 50 at 302-bis on Sadovaya Street. Styopa is beset by a raging
headache, apparently the result of his drinking the prior night. An aside
on the history of the apartment reveals that people began disappearing
from it two years earlier. Anna Fougeray, a jeweler's widow, had let out
three of the apartment's rooms, but all three lodgers vanished, and in
response, Anna left the apartment permanently. When Berlioz, Styopa, and
their respective wives moved in, both wives vanished within a month.
Styopa wakes up at 11 A.M. to see "an unknown man, dresses in black and
wearing a black beret," sitting in his room. This stranger explains that
he had arranged to meet Styopa in the apartment at 10 and has been waiting
since then for him to wake up. A bewildered Styopa eats caviar and white
bread and drinks vodka from a tray while sipping some vodka served by the
stranger, but fails to recall any arranged meeting with him. The stranger
identifies himself as Woland, a professor of black magic, and explains
that yesterday he arrived in Moscow, met Styopa, who is the director of
the Variety Theatre, and signed a contract to put on seven magic
performances at the theatre for 35,000 rubles. Styopa is shown the
contract but still cannot remember meeting Woland, as the professor will
be known for the rest of the novel. He calls up the theatre's financial
director, Rimsky, to confirm the contract.
Having done this, Styopa hangs up the phone and sees, wearing his
pince-nez, the same man Berlioz had twice encountered before dying, as
well as the black cat Ivan has already seen. These two, along with Woland,
intend to replace Styopa in the apartment. A fourth figure, Azazello,
enters wearing a bowler hat and displaying his fangs and flaming red hair.
The cat and Azazello tell Styopa to leave; Styopa gets dizzy and opens his
eyes to find himself on a jetty. He asks a man where he is and is told he
is in the city of Yalta, which is located in southern Russia. Styopa loses
At the same time, 11:30 A.M., Ivan wakes up. He calls for an attendant,
who gives him a bath, then he puts on his pajamas. He is taken to an
examination room and examined by three people, then returns to his room to
eat breakfast. The doctor, whose name is Stravinsky, enters, and his
entrance reminds Ivan of Pontius Pilate. Dr. Stravinsky hears Ivan's story
about Berlioz's death and the foreigner who saw Pilate and foretold
Berlioz's death. However, after reviewing Ivan's actions the previous
night, he advises Ivan against reporting the foreigner to the police as a
futile idea that will bring Ivan right back to the clinic. Ivan is instead
left alone in his room after being given a pencil and paper to write down
The strange disappearances from apartment 50 were apparently the work of
the secret police, who usually arrived in the night, always arrested
people under great secrecy, and did not inform any neighbors of their
arrests. In such an atmosphere of secret and unpleasant visits, the
professor's presence in apartment 50 perhaps should not surprise Styopa as
much as it does. However, Styopa is quick to realize that the wax seal on
Berlioz's study door means Berlioz has been arrested. Woland's ability to
manipulate the official machinery of Moscow to arrange his magic show
without the knowledge of the Variety executives again displays his unusual
powers. And Styopa, like Ivan, finds himself transported at stunning
speed. Although thus far Woland has not killed anyone, his powers are
clearly immense, and one wonders why he is putting on his magic show and
what will happen at the show.
The description of Ivan's dawning transformation into a more hesitant,
cautious, and deliberate man seems to show how the experiences that put
him in the clinic have served to subdue him. So he meekly accepts Dr.
Stravinsky's advice not to go to the police and to start forgetting about
Pilate. His spirit is weakening under the influence of authority.
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 9-10
Bosoy: Chairman of the tenants' association at 302-bis.
Varenukha: Administrator of the Variety Theatre.
Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy, chairman of tenants' association for Berlioz's
former residence, is besieged by requests from people seeking to occupy
Berlioz's old apartment. At noon, when he goes up to apartment 50, he sees
the choirmaster sitting at Berlioz's desk, dressed in his checkered jacket
and wearing the pince-nez. A suspicious Bosoy questions the choirmaster,
who says his name is Koroviev. Koroviev says he is the interpreter for
Woland, and explains that Woland has been invited by Styopa to live in the
apartment for a week while Styopa travels to Yalta. A surprised Bosoy
finds a letter from Styopa in his briefcase explaining the arrangement.
Koroviev answers Bosoy's request to see Woland by saying Woland is too
busy training the cat to see Bosoy. Koroviev adds that Woland's stay will
be profitable for the association, and agrees to pay the association 5,000
rubles in cash for the weeklong occupancy of the apartment. Koroviev also
slips Bosoy a wad of cash and a pass for the magic show. Bosoy, although
pleased with this bribe, also feels anxious about the entire situation.
Koroviev promptly calls the authorities to turn in Bosoy for "speculating
in foreign currency," testifying that he has 400 American dollars hidden
in the vent in the privy of his apartment. Bosoy returns to his apartment,
wraps his wad of 400 rubles in newspaper and puts it in the ventilation
duct of the privy, and goes into the dining room. The doorbell promptly
rings, and two citizens step in, find the wad, which now contains dollars
rather than rubles, and escort Bosoy out of the house.
As Chapter 10 opens, it is 2 P.M. and Rimsky and Varenukha, the
administrator of the Variety theatre, are meeting in Rimsky's office
trying to sort out the meaning of Woland's magic show. They have also been
waiting since 11:30 for Styopa, who had called them at about 11, to
arrive, but Styopa has since disappeared from his apartment. A woman comes
in to deliver a telegram announcing that a mental case identifying himself
as Styopa has been found in Yalta. A disbelieving Varenukha starts calling
people to try to find Styopa, but a new telegram mentioning Woland
confirms that the man in Yalta is indeed Styopa. The still disbelieving
Rimsky and Varenukha wonder how this man knows about Woland, and another
telegram arrives, confirming Styopa's identity through Styopa's own
handwriting. Rimsky tells Varenukha to take the stack of telegrams to the
secret police for them to sort out. Varenukha calls Styopa's apartment to
check if Styopa is home and speaks with Koroviev, who identifies himself
as Woland's assistant. Varenukha decides that Styopa must be at a new
tavern in Pushkino called Yalta'," whereupon another telegram from Styopa
asks them to send 500 rubles. Rimsky gives Varenukha the money to send to
Styopa, and Varenukha goes to his office. He answers the phone, and the
caller warns Varenukha against taking the telegrams anywhere. Varenukha
thinks someone is trying to play tricks. As he walks into the garden, he
feels the urge to go to the summer toilet to see if the wire over its
light bulb has been installed. In the toilet he encounters a fat, cat-like
man, who fiercely punches Varenukha's ear, then Azazello gives him a blow
on the other ear. The cat-like man points out that Varenukha was warned
against taking the telegrams anywhere, and the two men carry Varenukha
into apartment 50, then vanish and are replaced by a naked, red-haired
girl. The girl kisses Varenukha.
The flood of people seeking to possess Berlioz's living space is the
result of Soviet control over an insufficient supply of housing. Bosoy, as
chair of the tenants' association, has immense control to grant or deny
housing requests, and this control often lets him receive bribes. So,
although Bosoy is somewhat uneasy about Koroviev, he happily accepts the
payment and bribe. But Woland and his retinue, with their unclean powers,
are able to reward Bosoy's deceit by planting the $400 in his bathroom
vent. Upon being discovered, Bosoy's first instinct is to condemn his
accuser, somewhat like Ivan condemning Riukhin, but the condemnations do
neither one any good.
The story of Varenukha and Rimsky scrambling to find Styopa displays the
helplessness of Soviet authorities when faced with the unexpected element
of Woland's unclean powers. Official channels of communication, such as
the telephone and telegram, are no help in solving the problem of Styopa's
disappearance. In fact, they only serve to make things worse, as in
Koroviev's call and the call warning Varenukha not to take the telegrams
anywhere. Rimsky, like earlier characters, grows visibly aged very
quickly, in another example of distortions of time and space. Similar
distortions are present in the cat's transformation into a cat-like fat
man, the two vanishing robbers, and the apparition of the devilish woman.
The consequence of her kiss is not known, but it will likely create more
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 11-12
Georges Bengalsky: The master of ceremonies at the Variety.
Sempleyarov: Chairman of the Moscow theatres' Acoustics Commission.
Praskovya Fyodorovna: A nurse.
Ivan, who is still in his room at the clinic, has failed in his attempt to
write a statement about the professor. Nurse Praskovya Fyodorovna sees him
crying and goes to the doctor, who gives him an injection while assuring
Ivan he will cry no more. Ivan quickly begins to feel better, and the moon
starts to rise as evening settles on Moscow. Ivan, thinking to himself, at
first dismisses the death of Berlioz as absurd, but then "the former Ivan"
points out to "the new Ivan" that the professor predicted Berlioz's
demise. The new Ivan ponders the strange professor and wonders who will
replace Berlioz as editor of the journal. A voice that resembles the
consultant's calls Ivan a fool, which makes Ivan happy, and he sees a man
on the balcony, who tells him to keep quiet.
The scene shifts to the Variety's stage for Chapter 12, as the Guilli
family's cycling acrobatics form the opening act of Woland's magic show.
Meanwhile, Rimsky tries to call Varenukha at 10 P.M., only to learn that
all the building's phones are out of order. He goes down to the theatre's
dressing room to meet Woland and is surprised to see Koroviev, along with
the black cat, accompanying Woland. The cat's trick of drinking water from
a glass astounds everyone in the dressing room. On stage, Georges
Bengalsky, the master of ceremonies, starts to introduce Woland, but the
introduction falls flat, and Woland, Koroviev, and the cat take the stage.
Woland begins by calling Koroviev "Fagott," the name Koroviev will be
known by throughout the magic show. He chats with Koroviev about Moscow.
After an interruption from Bengalsky, the show begins with Koroviev and
the cat flipping a deck of cards back and forth, and Koroviev swallowing
the cards as they are returned to him by the cat. The deck is then found
on a citizen named Parchevsky, after which a heckler claims the deck was
planted on Parchevsky. Koroviev tells the heckler he now has the deck.
This heckler finds ten-ruble bills in his pocket instead of the deck, and
when a fat man in the stalls asks "to play with the same kind of deck,"
Koroviev shoots his pistol up at the ceiling, and money begins raining
The audience starts grabbing the bills, but Koroviev stops the rain of
money by blowing into the air. Bengalsky steps in to declare that the rain
of cash was merely a trick of mass hypnosis and asks Woland to make the
notes disappear, but Koroviev and the audience do not like this idea.
Someone in the gallery calls for tearing Bengalsky's head off. Koroviev
says he likes this idea, and the cat jumps upon Bengalsky and tears his
head off with two twists of his paws. An outraged audience asks for the
head to be put back on Bengalsky, and the cat puts it back. A crowd rushes
to help Bengalsky after he starts moaning, and he is taken away by
ambulance. Meanwhile, Woland disappears, and as he does, Koroviev displays
ladies' dresses, hats, shoes, and accessories from Paris. After he offers
the women in the audience the chance to exchange their dresses and shoes
for the Parisian dresses and shoes, one brunette takes up the offer. After
she receives a pair of shoes and a dress, women rush the stage to get
their new dresses and shoes. When Sempleyarov, the chairman of the
Acoustics Commission of the Moscow theatres, calls for the trickery to
end, Koroviev exposes his affair with his mistress, "an actress from a
traveling theatre. Sempleyarov's wife defends him and, amidst the
continuing chaos, Koroviev and the cat, now called Behemoth, vanish from
The chapter title makes Ivan's schizophrenia explicit. He, newly
submissive, can no longer make sense of the Pilate story or Berlioz's
death and can only be healed by numbing medicine. Although the former Ivan
knows that the Berlioz episode is quite disturbing, the new Ivan,
unwilling to confront such difficulty, dismisses Berlioz's death as a
temporary matter. The appearance of the man on the balcony, though, may
mean the man will disturb Ivan's newly forgetful nature.
Woland's magic show employs the basic strategy of manipulating, exposing,
and distorting expectations and wishes. The initial conversation between
him and Koroviev, rather than playing to the crowd, centers on the
character of the Muscovites. When the fat man calls for money, he and
everyone else receives it. Bengalsky's attempt to suavely introduce the
show and smooth over the surprises is shouted down by the money-hungry
audience, and when an audience member calls for his head, the request is
granted. The audience takes the briefest notice of this ghastliness before
the women are given the chance to pursue their desire for adornment and
luxury. When Sempleyarov tries to stop the ensuing chaos, his secret acts
are exposed by Koroviev. The mad audience, carried away by all the tumult,
fails to notice Fagott and Behemoth are disappearing. The culprits have
escaped, and the audience is left to deal with the repercussions of the
Summary and Analysis: Chapter 13
Master: Currently in the psychiatric clinic with Ivan, he has written a
novel about Pilate and Yeshua.
Master's lover (also known as Margarita): Lives with the master in a
Ivan's visitor is a dark-haired man, approximately thirty-eight years of
age. He explains that he has gained access to the clinic's common balcony
by stealing some keys and could escape, but stays at the clinic because he
has nowhere to go. Ivan confesses to this visitor that his poetry is bad
and promises not to write any more poems. The visitor tells Ivan that
Bosoy has arrived in room 119 cursing Pushkin and insisting that "unclean
powers" live in apartment 50. Ivan tells the visitor he is in the clinic
because of the story about Pilate and Berlioz's death, and the visitor
tells Ivan that the professor at Patriarch's Ponds was actually Satan.
Ivan, as his former self, tells the visitor they should try to catch
Woland, and the visitor informs Ivan he has written a novel about Pilate,
which is why he is in the clinic. Identifying himself as "a Master," he
tells Ivan he had won 100,000 rubles in a lottery and used the money to
rent a basement apartment and write his novel. The master continues
telling a story about his past: one day, he met a woman carrying repulsive
yellow flowers in her hand on Tverskya Boulevard and fell in love with
her. However, both the master and she were married, so they met secretly
every afternoon in his apartment. She urged the master to keep working on
his novel, but it was rejected by publishers, and two critics wrote
articles attacking the manuscript. However, the article by the critic
Latunsky was the most savage attack of all, and the master became mentally
ill from his struggles. One day in mid-October his lover urged him to
travel to the Black Sea. He gave her 10,000 rubles to keep until he
departed, and she promised to return to the master the next day. That
night, he set out to burn his notebooks and manuscript but was interrupted
by a visit from his lover. She rescued one chapter of the novel from the
fire, and she vowed to tell her husband about the affair and stay with the
master permanently. She also promised him she would return in the morning.
After the master retreats to the balcony and tells Ivan room 120 is now
occupied by Georges Bengalsky, he continues the story, which has shifted
to mid-January. In the intervening three months, the master was held by
the police. On a cold night after his release, the master set out on foot
for the psychiatric clinic, and was picked up by a truck driver, who took
him to it. Having finished his story, the master leaves Ivan's room and
says he cannot tell any more of the story of Yeshua and Pilate, which, in
ay case, would be better told by Woland.
The master's appearance provokes Ivan, like Riukhin, to dismiss his poems
as worthless, but he, unlike Riukhin, resolves to abandon further poetic
effort. Ivan's honesty wins him the master's confidence and advice. As he
points out, Ivan's inability to identify Satan shows how odd and illusory
life in Moscow is. The populace, which has throughout the novel made the
devil part of everyday conversation, is unable to identify Satan when he
In contrast to Ivan's meekness and willingness to obey others, the master,
as he tells Ivan, firmly set out to write his novel about Pilate by
himself and quickly realized he loved the woman with the yellow flowers.
Their devotion to each other and the Pilate novel sets them apart from
ordinary Muscovites, but the master is punished by the Communist literary
establishment for writing his novel. In burning his manuscript, the master
submitted to this official judgment, but his lover proved more courageous
in her support for him. The master, though, is at least aware of his fear,
and is aware that things may still change. It seems his appearance has
somehow changed Ivan, though it remains to be seen exactly how and in what
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 14-15
Sergei Gerardovich Dunchil Dunchil: A roughly 50-year-old man accused of
hiding currency and a gold necklace.
Rimsky, sitting in his office at the Variety Theatre, hears a policeman's
whistle as he stares at a stack of cash from the magic show on his desk.
He looks out on the street to see two disheveled, nearly naked women
leaving the theatre. The clock strikes midnight, and Varenukha enters
Rimsky's office. An anxious, fearful Rimsky asks Varenukha about Styopa,
and gets the answer that Styopa was found in the tavern in Pushkino.
Rimsky is happy with this news, but as Varenukha tells the story of
Styopa's outrageous drunkenness at the Yalta tavern, Rimsky realizes
Varenukha's entire story is a lie. Rimsky, who is aware of some kind of
danger, examines Varenukha and finds he has a large bruise on the right
side of his nose, a pale, chalky pallor, and cowardly eyes.
Rimsky rings a bell for help, only to notice the bell is broken but
Varenukha has noticed the ringing. When Varenukha lies about the cause of
his bruise and Rimsky sees that he casts no shadow, Varenukha realizes he
has been found out. He locks the door, and Rimsky goes to the window to
see a naked woman pressing her face against it, trying to get in. Just as
it seems Varenukha and the naked woman, who is dead, are about to kill
Rimsky, a cock cries three times in response to the dawning of a new day.
The woman flies away and Varenukha floats out the window. A suddenly aged
Rimsky runs downstairs and flees on the express train to Leningrad.
Before arriving in the clinic's room 119, Bosoy was taken to the secret
police for questioning about the illegal currency. The authorities,
concluding he was insane because he claimed Koroviev was the devil, put
Bosoy in the clinic. He arrived in the evening and given an injection to
quiet him down. Now asleep, Bosoy begins to dream about currency. Bosoy
finds himself in a small, elegant theatre which lacks seats, so the
bearded male audience sits on the floor. A bell rings and a young,
handsome artist emerges and calls Bosoy up onto the stage. When asked by
the artist to hand over his currency, Bosoy answers by claiming Koroviev
"stuck" him with the $400. Bosoy goes back to sit on the floor, and after
the theatre fills with darkness, fiery red words emerge on the walls
telling the audience, "Turn over your currency!" Sergei Gerardovich
Dunchil comes on stage, as does Dunchil's wife, and after Dunchil's
initial denials of hiding currency or diamonds, Dunchil's mistress emerges
bearing a tray with his $18,000 and diamond necklace. The curtain drops,
the artist emerges again, and he brings out an actor to perform excerpts
from Pushkin's The Covetous Knight, a play about man's terrible
fascination with gold and cash. A citizen named Kanavkin goes on stage to
turn over his $1000 and twenty ten-ruble gold pieces, and, after being
examined by the artist, reveals that his aunt is hiding some more money
for him. The theatre's lights turn on and cooks swarm over the audience to
ladle out bowls of soup and rye bread while encouraging the men to hand
over their currency. Bosoy is awakened by nurse Praskovya Fyodorovna, and
his cries wake up Ivan, the master, and Georges Bengalsky. Ivan falls back
to sleep and begins a dream of his own.
The magic show's consequences are revealed in the disheveled women
wandering outside the theatre. The aged Rimsky feels himself getting
frightened, and Varenukha's appearance makes things worse. The kiss has
turned him into some sort of demon, and he and the dead woman converge on
Rimsky. Tellingly, the third crowing of the cock, which recalls Jesus's
prediction that Peter would betray him three times before the crowing of
the cock, causes the woman and Varenukha to flee.
The interrogation of Bosoy, presumably done by the secret police, sets the
stage for Bosoy's dream. He has recognized the devilishness of Koroviev
and in response has turned to religious symbols, but, like Ivan, is not
taken seriously by the clinic staff. The dream clearly reflects Bosoy's
recent misfortune, but in its focus on the exposure of currency hoarders
it recalls the magic show. Here too, private cravings are exposed publicly
on an odd stage. The performance of excerpts from the Pushkin play shows
how classic Russian literature is used for state purposes by the
Communists, who deploy it to pressure the audience into handing over their
currency. Ivan's response to the commotion in room 119 is not to think of
currency but to dream of the execution at Bald Mountain: perhaps this
dream is inspired by the earlier visit from the master.
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 16-17
Vassily Stepanovich: The Variety Theatre's bookkeeper.
Prokhor Petrovich: Chairman of the commission on light entertainments.
Anna Richardovna: The secretary to Prokhor Petrovich.
Ivan's dream begins with the Roman soldiers taking the three condemned men
up to Bald Mountain to be executed. They are followed by about 2,000
citizens, who spread out around the hill. As the evening heat beats down,
one person is noticed hiding on the north side of Bald Mountain under a
fig tree, where he cannot see the execution. He had been tardy in
following the procession of soldiers and, after failing to make it to the
execution site itself, went off to the north side of Bald Mountain because
he would be alone there, apart from the soldiers and the crowd. The man,
whose name is Matthew Levi, had thought of taking a knife and killing his
companion, Yeshua, and then himself, as the three condemned men were
marched to the execution. For that purpose he ran back to Yershalaim and
stole a bread knife, but upon running back, realized the procession was
too far ahead of him for the plan to be realized.
After Matthew Levi curses God for failing to kill Yeshua quickly, a
massive storm cloud swallows the setting sun and rolls westward. The scene
shifts to the three condemned men hanging on their posts. Yeshua is faring
better than the other two, and he is given a soaked sponge to drink water
from. The executioner stabs Yeshua and Dysmas to death, and Gestas, the
third man, dies after being given the sponge. Just after the three men are
proclaimed dead, lightning and thunder emerge from the cloud, as well as a
deluge of rain. The soldiers leave, and Matthew Levi goes up to the posts
to cut down the three bodies, then carries the body of Yeshua down from
the hilltop. Ivan's dream has ended.
The scene shifts to the Variety Theatre, where a long line of citizens has
gathered seeking tickets to Woland's magic show, and the theatre's phones
are incessantly ringing. Rimsky's wife comes into the theatre at 10
A.M. looking for Rimsky or information about his whereabouts, and the
police arrive at 10:30. Rimsky's wife is sent home, and the investigators
arrive with a dog, who is taken away after failing to follow a scented
trail. The investigators ask the bookkeeper, Vassily Stepanovich, why the
posters for the show have vanished along with the contract, but he knows
nothing about either issue. They visit apartment 50, but Woland is not
there. With the Variety's directors gone and no sign of Woland, the magic
show is cancelled, and Vassily is told to give a report on yesterday's
show and turn in the receipts from it. But when a departing Vassily pulls
out a ten-ruble bill to pay his cab driver, he realizes the bill is fake,
and the driver says two other fares have paid him with fake ten-ruble
bills received from last night's magic show. Vassily pays him with other
bills and goes to deliver his report to the commission on light
entertainment. There, he encounters tumult: the chairman's secretary, Anna
Richardovna, pulls Vassily into the chairman's office, where he finds an
nothing but an empty man's suit. The secretary blames the chairman's
transformation on the devil and tells Vassily the black cat had gone into
the chairman's office and replaced the chairman, Prokhor Petrovich, with
the empty suit. Vassily walks over to the commission's affiliate, where he
finds the employees involuntarily singing a song. Vassily learns that
Koroviev has come into their offices teaching them the "Glorious Sea"
song, hypnotizing them with it. A perplexed Vassily goes on to the
financial sector to deposit the box-office money, but when he opens his
briefcase he finds stacks of various foreign currency instead of the
rubles. Vassily is arrested.
Matthew Levi's presence at some distance from the execution site somewhat
invalidates his anger at God for failing to give Yeshua a quick death;
Matthew Levi has already failed to end Yeshua's suffering, so it hardly
seems just for him to criticize God for not bringing about Yeshua's death.
However, by framing the execution through Matthew Levi, this chapter
emphasizes the simple humanity of those being executed rather than the
Roman power that has authorized their deaths. So the three bodies are
given to Matthew Levi to release from their posts, and it is he who takes
possession of Yeshua's body.
The continuing realism of the Yershalaim narrative is in sharp contrast to
the strange, unexpected events in Moscow. The Variety Theatre, still
coping with the uproar caused by the magic show, is at a loss as to what
to do. The only option is to cancel the night's scheduled show and try to
recover, but the show's dispersal of fake money snares Vassily
Stepanovich. The government in Moscow continues being overwhelmed by
Woland and his retinue continues, as evidenced in the staff's involuntary,
hypnotic singing. The more dramatic disappearance of Prokhor Petrovich's
body is a rather astounding example of how space and time continue to be
played with by the devilish threesome. The city has been turned upside
down by these characters, who have only been in town for two days.
Summary and Analysis: Chapter 18
Poplavsky: Berlioz's uncle.
Andrei Fokich Sokov: Barman at the Variety Theatre.
Kuzmin: A doctor who treats Sokov's ailment.
Berlioz's uncle, Poplavsky, arrives in Moscow hoping to gain occupancy of
his nephew's former apartment. Finding that Bosoy is not in, he decides to
head up to apartment 50, where he encounters Koroviev and Behemoth and
learns from Koroviev that Behemoth sent the telegram informing Poplavsky
of Berlioz's demise. Behemoth demands to see Poplavsky's passport and
tells him he isn't allowed at Berlioz's funeral and that he should go back
to Kiev and lie low. Azazello enters, hits Poplavsky with a chicken, and
throws his suitcase down the stairway. Poplavsky makes his way downstairs
and encounters an old, melancholy man. He tells the man where apartment 50
is, watches the man go upstairs to the apartment, then watches the man run
back downstairs and out of the building. This man, Andrei Fokich Sokov, is
barman at the Variety. A beautiful, nearly naked woman lets him into the
apartment where he meets Woland and Behemoth. He encounters difficulties
with them before asking Woland about the fake bills, which have caused
Sokov to lose 109 rubles from making change for false bills at the bar. A
voice from the apartment's adjacent room reveals that Sokov has 249,000
rubles and 200 ten-ruble gold pieces, and a scared Sokov finds the fake
bills have turned back into real ten-ruble notes.
The voice also predicts Sokov will die of liver cancer next February, and
Sokov runs out of the house and heads to a specialist in liver diseases.
Believing the prophecy is true, he asks Professor Kuzmin for help. Kuzmin
dismisses Sokov as a schizophrenic crook, but when a dancing sparrow flies
onto his desk, Kuzmin becomes light-headed and dizzy. After seeing a nurse
with a man's mouth and a fang at his desk, he goes to bed for some
Poplavsky's base reason for coming to Moscow is another example of how
Woland draws out characters' inner desires. He, like the theatergoers, is
punished for pursuing his desire. The Variety's barman, Sokov, displays
more courage than most of those who have encountered Woland. Perhaps this
courage comes from his God-fearing nature, but it does not keep him from
being frightened by the exposure of his own currency hoarding, or the
prediction that he will die of liver cancer. Sokov, unlike Berlioz, takes
the prediction seriously. But the doctor dismisses Sokov's fears as mere
phantasms. Kuzmin encounters the same problem of fake magic show money the
taxicabs had dealt with, and he, like Varenukha before him, has a
frightening encounter with a dead woman. The meaning of the sparrow's
appearance is somewhat obscure. However, sparrows have already appeared in
the novel, and it seems plausible that they represent higher powers,
whether for good or for bad. Certainly this sparrow only deepens Kuzmin's
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 19-20
Nikolai Ivanovich: Margarita's husband.
The master's lover, the 30-year-old, childless Margarita, has a
comfortable life but does not love her husband. With the master gone and
her not knowing if he is alive or dead, she sinks into despair. But on
Friday, the same day as the bookkeeper's arrest, she wakes up around noon,
sensing that her dream last night of the master calling to her means he is
either dead and calling for her to join him, or alive, and they will see
each other soon. She listens to her housemaid, Natasha, talk about last
night's magic show, but she dismisses the stories as a false rumor.
Margarita takes the trolley-bus down the Arbat and hears talk of a
corpse's head being stolen from a coffin before getting off and taking a
seat on a bench under the Kremlin wall. After watching a funeral
procession go by, she says she would "pawn [her] soul to the devil" to
know if the master is alive. She wonders who is being buried, and Azazello
tells her it is Berlioz. The corpse's head has been stolen, however. He
points out Latunsky in the procession in response to her request, then
tells her he has come to her with some business, namely, to invite
Margarita for a visit to a foreigner that evening. When a disbelieving
Margarita dismisses him, he recites some of the master's novel, and an
amazed Margarita asks him if the master is alive. Azazello affirms that he
is alive and instructs Margarita to take off all her clothes at home at
9:30 that evening, rub herself with the ointment he will have given her,
and wait for him to call her at
10. Margarita agrees and puts the ointment into her handbag. At 9:29 that
evening, Margarita spreads the ointment over her body, and, looking in the
mirror, sees herself as twenty-year-old woman with naturally curly black
hair. She is pleasantly amazed by this, and, when she feels her body
become weightless and free, she becomes very happy. She writes a farewell
note to her husband, telling him she is now a witch and is leaving him
forever. Natasha sees her transformation and helps her pack up for the
trip. Meanwhile, her husband, Nikolai Ivanovich, arrives in his car to sit
on a bench in the garden outside their home. Azazello promptly calls and
tells her to shout "Invisible!" as she flies over the gate. Margarita
takes the broom that comes into the house, and she throws off her shift,
cries "Invisible! Invisible!" and flies off.
Margarita, with her dissatisfaction in the midst of wealth, a
superficially happy marriage, and roomy lodgings, is a stark contrast to
earlier Moscow characters, who sought after material luxury as though it
was the key to happiness. Margarita is instead devoted to her relationship
with the master. She also follows the presentiment that arises from her
dream: unlike other characters, she follows her intuitions about the
supernatural. She also is willing to able to talk with the absent master
on the bench under the Kremlin. Margarita is not superstitious though, as
is seen in her refusal to believe Natasha's stories about the magic show.
She responds to Azazello's arrival with fresh, uninspired speech, and even
reproaches him. Her courage, even audacity, has been matched only by
Yeshua. But she does trust Azazello and agrees to visit Woland, seeing it
as a chance to reunite with the master.
Woland, who has earlier caused several people to age rapidly, does the
opposite trick for Margarita. Her sense of freedom and anticipation also
contrasts with the fear so many characters have felt. She realizes that
Woland is not dangerous, and embraces her future as a witch who has
abandoned her husband. Other characters seem to dread the future, but she
thinks it will bring her happiness.
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 21-22
Fat Man: A man who Margarita encounters on the banks of the Yenisey River.
Hella: A witch.
Margarita's invisible flight is underway. She flies along the Arbat,
dodging utility wires as she flies about 20 feet off the ground before
coming across the House of Dramatists and Literary Workers. Margarita
finds Latunsky's name on the tenants' list, finds his top-floor apartment,
and enters through an open window. She turns on the bathtub faucet,
smashes the piano with a hammer, and starts smashing Latunsky's windows
and other windows on the top floor. Continuing to smash windows
methodically, she descends to the fourth floor as the overflowing bathtub
water starts to fall through the floor to the apartment below Latunsky's.
But she sees a small boy who tells her he is afraid, and she stops
smashing windows, puts down her hammer, and quickly flies out of Moscow.
Natasha, flying on a pig who is Margarita's transformed husband, joins her
and explains that the ointment has enabled Natasha to fly and produced the
husband's transformation. Natasha flies on ahead, and Margarita, sensing
that her goal is near, slows her flight to land near the Yenisey River.
There, she sees a naked, fat, drunken man, who calls her Queen Margot and
falls into the river. Margarita flies to the opposite bank of the river,
where musicians are playing a march in her honor, and naiads, naked
witches, and a goat-legged figure give her a welcome. The goat-legged
person calls for a car on an improvised telephone made from two twigs, and
the car, driven by a crow, arrives to take Margarita back to Moscow.
The car drops off Margarita at a deserted cemetery, where she meets
Azazello. They fly on the broom to 302-bis. They walk past three men, all
of them wearing a cap and high boots, and go into apartment 50. They walk
up the dark apartment's stairs to a landing and see Koroviev there,
holding a little lamp. He, dressed in formal wear, asks Margarita to
follow him as Azazello disappears. She sees that they are in a huge hall
before Koroviev explains the huge size of the hall by saying that it is
easy for someone acquainted with the fifth dimension to expand space.
Koroviev goes on to tell Margarita that Woland gives a ball every year in
the spring on the full moon, and he needs her to serve as hostess. The
woman must be named Margarita and be a Moscow native, two characteristics
she matches. Margarita accepts, and she and Koroviev enters a small room,
in which Azazello stands. The witch who had surprised the Variety's
barman, and who is named Hella, sits on a rug by an oak bed. Behemoth sits
before a chess table holding a knight, and Woland sits on the bed, staring
at Margarita and wearing a long nightshirt. He and Behemoth are playing
chess. Behemoth is dressed in a bow tie and wearing ladies' opera glasses
from a strap on his neck, which he deems suitable attire for the evening's
Woland identifies Behemoth for Margarita, and some of the chess pieces
begin moving in their squares, to Margarita's surprise. In a bid for
victory, Behemoth gets Woland's king to run off the board, but Woland sees
what has happened and gets the cat to give up. Woland shows Margarita his
globe, which is a living microcosm of the real world, with wars, fires,
and collapsing houses happening on it. He tells Margarita that Abaddon,
the Hebrew word for destruction, does excellent work, and Abaddon promptly
emerges from the wall, scaring Margarita with his dark glasses. Azazello
tells Woland that Natasha and Nikolai Ivanovich are at the apartment door
trying to get in, and Woland decides to have her stay with Margarita, but
refuses to let the husband into the ballroom.
Woland has manipulated space before, but here he grants Margarita control
over space in her flight on the broom. She uses her power to gain revenge
on Latunsky by smashing his windows and flooding his apartment, but she
stops when she notices the little boy's fear. Natasha's transformation
into a witch seems to play no important role in the plot, but it does give
Margarita the first chance to exercise her new power as witch and queen by
letting Natasha remain a witch. Her arrival in the forest seems to be
deeply symbolic, especially her encounter with the drunken fat man. Why is
she greeted with such a ceremony, and what was the point of having her fly
all the way to the forest when she is immediately driven back to Moscow by
the crow? Perhaps such a ceremony is required for all those who visit
Woland, but it at least serves the purpose of displaying Margarita's new
Margarita's entrance into apartment 50 is marked by the strangeness of
Koroviev's introductory talk about how easy it is to expand space. This
has already been made clear by the depositing of Styopa in Yalta, among
other events, but Koroviev merely makes a little joke to prove that space
is expandable. He also tells Margarita she was the only suitable hostess
for Woland's ball, but does not tell her why she was suitable. The ensuing
scene in the room where Woland and the cat play chess gives Margarita a
further chance to prove her mettle. Woland's description of his three
comrades as "a small, mixed and guileless company" is hard to take at face
value, but here, with Margarita as their guest, they appear very relaxed
and unguarded. The sight of the horrors on Woland's globe highlights the
agonies of earthly existence, dominated as it is by Abaddon's
Summary and Analysis: Chapter 23
With midnight looming, the hosts must hurry to prepare for the ball.
Margarita is washed in a jeweled pool filled with blood, then with rose
oil. Rose petal slippers are put on her feet, a diamond crown is put on
her head, and Koroviev hangs an oval picture of a black poodle around her
neck. He instructs her to acknowledge every guest, and an empty ballroom
appears, adorned with columns, tulips, and lamps, and populated by some
"naked Negroes" standing by the columns, and an orchestra of roughly 150
men, conducted by Johann Strauss. Another room has walls of roses and a
wall of Japanese double camellias, fountains of champagne bubbling in
three pools, Negroes to serve the champagne, and a jazz band. Margarita is
put on her throne, from which she can see a huge fireplace in the vast
front hall. Just after midnight, the first guests--the counterfeiter,
alchemist, and traitor Monsieur Jacques and his wife--emerge from a
gallows and a coffin that drop down into the fireplace. Margarita receives
them, and more figures emerge from coffins in the fireplace. More and more
guests arrive, but Margarita takes particular notice of one woman, who had
used a handkerchief to choke her newborn boy to death, and has for thirty
years put a handkerchief on her night table, then woken up and found the
handkerchief still there. When Margarita asks about the fate of the man
who raped this woman and fathered the child, Behemoth, who has gone
underneath her throne, says not to bother with him, and Margarita, warning
him to say nothing more, rakes Behemoth's ear with her left hand's
fingernails. The woman, named Frieda, briefly talks with Margarita, who
advises her to get drunk. Koroviev introduces numerous other guests, but
Margarita grows tired of them and their stories. Her body feels weary,
especially her right knee, which is being kissed by all the guests. After
three hours of receiving guests, the last two arrive. Margarita is then
massaged in a pool of blood and gains her strength, which she needs to
manage the crowd of guests, which is dancing to songs played by a jazz
band of monkeys. Margarita and Koroviev leave the pool, and after having a
few bizarre visions, Margarita returns to the ballroom and, to her
amazement, a clock strikes midnight.
Silence falls upon the guests, and Woland, Azazello, Abaddon, and some men
who resemble Abaddon walk in. Azazello holds Berlioz's head on a platter,
and Woland tells the head about his prediction of Berlioz's death. He
declares that, according to the notion that "it will be given to each
according to his faith," Berlioz will pass into non-being. But a new
guest, Baron Meigel, "an employee of the Spectacles Commission" charged
with showing foreigners around Moscow, has arrived. Meigel had offered to
provide his services to Woland, and Woland returned the favor by inviting
Meigel to the ball. However, he quickly accuses Meigel of being "a
stool-pigeon and a spy" and predicts he will die within a month. Azazello
fatally shoots Meigel, and Koroviev, after gathering the blood spouting
from Meigel's body in a cup, gives it to Woland to drink. Once Woland has
drunk, his patched shirt and worn slippers are replaced with a black
chlamys and a steel sword on his hip, and he tells Margarita to drink. She
does and the ballroom disappears, replaced by the ordinary setting of
apartment 50. Margarita walks through the apartment's door.
Margarita's bath in rose oil and blood recalls Pilate's hatred of rose oil
and the earlier images of blood. The rose-petal slippers add to the sense
that in this novel, roses do not represent vitality or happiness. The
generally sumptuous, even decadent atmosphere of the ball conflicts with
its ravaged guests, who, appropriately, begin emerging from the fireplace
at the witching hour of midnight. The stories connected with the guests
are all grotesque, but there seems to be no point to them. Unlike in
Dante's Inferno, which apparently inspires this assemblage of the damned,
Margarita is not instructed by their stories, she merely endures them.
Perhaps her role as hostess is merely a trial of her strength. Berlioz's
appearance gives Woland the chance to disprove Berlioz's theory, but he
surprisingly shows mercy to Berlioz, condemning him to mere nonexistence,
not damnation. Baron Meigel, on the other hand, suffers death for merely
doing his job. Woland's reassurance that Margarita is not drinking blood
displays once more the curious role played by alcohol thus far, both at
the ball and in the novel as a whole.
Summary and Analysis: Chapter 24
Woland's bedroom is just as it was before the ball. Margarita drinks a
glass of pure alcohol and feels refreshed by it. She drinks a second glass
and starts to eat caviar. Koroviev confirms her suspicion that the three
men at 302-bis were secret police and predicts they will come to arrest
him. Margarita, excited by Meigel's murder, prompts Koroviev to say that
Azazello can hit any covered-up objects. The company proceeds to play
target practice with playing cards. At about 6 A.M., Woland says Margarita
can request something in return for serving as hostess. Margarita asks
that Frieda no longer be given her handkerchief, and when Frieda appears,
Margarita declares that this will be done. Woland says since Margarita
granted this wish herself, she can have one more for herself. Margarita
asks for her master to come back immediately, and he promptly appears.
Margarita, now clothed in a black silk cloak, sees that he looks sick, but
when he drinks two glasses offered by Margarita, he gets better. The
master and Woland talk about his novel before the master's manuscript is
found on top of a stack of manuscripts Behemoth was sitting on.
Margarita asks Woland for her and the master to return to their former
life in the basement apartment, and Woland grants this wish. But before
the two leave, Natasha wins her wish to remain a witch, and Varenukha
successfully asks to return to his life before he became a vampire. After
Margarita is given a diamond-studded horseshoe, Woland's retinue escorts
Margarita and the master into a black car by the entrance to 302-bis. When
Margarita realizes she forgot her horseshoe, Azazello runs up to get it
and encounters the Annushka who had spilled the sunflower oil that Berlioz
slipped on. She has stolen the napkin-covered horseshoe after the party
walked downstairs. Azazello orders her to give it back, and gives her 200
rubles in exchange for preserving the horseshoe. He gives the horseshoe to
Margarita and goodbyes are exchanged before the car takes Margarita and
the master to their basement. There, Margarita starts reading from the
master's Pilate novel.
The alcohol given Margarita sparks her vivacity, and this strength,
together with Woland's comment that Meigel's blood has given rise to
grapevines, calls to mind the Christian belief in transubstantiation. The
conversation between her, Woland, Koroviev, Azazello, and Behemoth is
striking in its quick turns of subject, its lack of small talk, and its
immediacy. Margarita's sacrificing and trusting spirit, rewarded by
Woland's granting her multiple wishes, asks first not for the return of
the master, but relief for Frieda. This request both brings to mind
Goethe's Faust and sparks Woland's comments on mercy. This mercy is not
within Woland's power, of course, and Margarita is rewarded for her wish
by both having the power to grant it herself and being granted another
The drink that had helped Margarita helps the master as well. And he too
is treated mercifully by the return of his manuscript. Woland's comment
that "manuscripts don't burn" seems to speak to the power of art,
especially in overcoming tyranny. The couple, in exchange for enduring
their trials, are returned to their basement apartment. The appearance of
Margarita's husband and Varenukha shows how those two men are not capable
of suffering the trials the couple endured. The husband merely asks for
the proper bureaucratic procedures to be followed, and Varenukha seems to
simply lack the strength to be a vampire. The return of Margarita's
diamond-studded horseshoe gives the novel a chance to reiterate Annushka's
status as a bad omen and her grubby, materialistic nature. It also again
emphasizes the theme of exposure and secrecy.
Summary and Analysis: Chapter 25
A hurricane has struck Yershalaim, and Pilate is lying on a couch under
the columns of his palace. He mutters to himself before seeing the hooded
man who had been present at the execution. They greet each other, and as
the evening sun starts shining, the hooded man reports that the city's
populace is calm, and the Roman troops can leave. They converse about the
execution before Pilate raises the issue of Judas of Kiriath. The hooded
man, who is the head of the Roman secret police in Judea, confirms that
Judas will be paid well for handing over Yeshua. Pilate mentions his fear
that Judas will be killed tonight by one of Yeshua's friends. He asks the
hooded man, whose name is Aphranius, to protect Judas, and though
Aphranius vows to do this, Pilate predicts Judas will be killed. He also
asks Aphranius for a report on the burial of the executed men before
The weather imagery of the chapter, with its initial hurricane and the sun
emerging from that storm to shine its twilight rays on Yershalaim, calls
to mind the important role weather has played throughout the novel in
setting scenes and highlighting moods. Here, the storm seems to reflect
Pilate's unsettled mind as well as provide the appropriate backdrop for
the shadowy machinations of Aphranius, the hooded man. The vow that only
the power of the Roman Caesar is guaranteed is ironic, given that Pilate
has gained no peace from his own power, and the Roman Empire itself will
begin its decline not long after Pilate leaves office. Despite the vow
about guarantees, Pilate is willing to prophesize Judas's death. This
prophecy appears to be read by Aphranius as an order to murder Judas.
Summary and Analysis: Chapter 26
Niza: A woman pursued by Judas; she betrays him to the Hooded Man.
Judas: The man who betrayed Yeshua; he is murdered by the Hooded Man's
An anguished Pilate calls to his dog, Banga, for comfort. Meanwhile,
Aphranius gets three carts loaded with entrenching tools and barrels of
water, and the cart drivers, escorted by 15 men on horseback, set off for
Bald Mountain. Aphranius leaves as well on horseback and goes to Antonia
Fortress, then to Greek Street in the Lower City. He meets Niza, a young
woman, at a house there, and they leave separately after their brief
meeting. At the same time, Judas of Kiriath is leaving his dreary house.
He goes into Kaifa's courtyard briefly, then heads toward the marketplace
of the Lower City, where he sees Niza. Niza tells Judas to go the olive
estate in Gethsemane, following her lead, and meet her in the grotto
there. He follows Niza and calls for her in the estate's garden, but
instead two men jump out at him. The first man fatally stabs Judas in the
heart, and Aphranius appears on the estate's road to tell the two men to
leave quickly. They take Judas's purse and its thirty tetradrachmas.
Aphranius comes back to Yershalaim, puts on his helmet and sword, and
reverses his cloak into a military chlamys.
On the Passover night, Yershalaim is celebrating, but Pilate in his palace
merely goes to sleep around midnight and begins to dream. In the dream,
he, accompanied by Banga, walks with Yeshua in the moonlight, talking
about "something very complex and important." Pilate realizes that Yeshua
must be alive if he is walking beside him, and Yeshua says both that
cowardice is the worst vice and that he and Pilate will always be linked.
Pilate wakes to realize Yeshua is indeed dead, and he sees Mark Ratslayer,
who tells Pilate that Aphranius is waiting to see him. Aphranius informs
Pilate that Judas has died in Gethsemane, but Aphranius claims not to know
who killed Judas. Aphranius also tells Pilate the executed men have been
buried, and the body of Yeshua was found with Matthew Levi in a cave on
the northern slope of Bald Skull. Matthew Levi, who helped bury Yeshua, is
now at the palace, and he meets Pilate in its garden. Matthew Levi asks
that his bread knife be returned to the shop he took it from. He shows
Pilate a parchment scroll with some of Yeshua's sayings. Matthew Levi
rejects Pilate's offer for him to serve at Pilate's library in Caesarea
and declares that he will kill Judas. Pilate smiles as he tells Matthew
Levi he has already killed Judas. Levi leaves after asking for a piece of
clean parchment, and dawn breaks with Pilate and Banga asleep once again.
Pilate's weakness, weariness and fear are reiterated at the very start of
the chapter. Judas, in contrast, is neither weary nor wary thanks to his
desire for Niza, and therefore entirely fails to realize that she is
leading him into a deadly trap. Her betrayal, together with Aphranius'
underhanded act of murder, replay themes of falseness, duplicity, and
secret dealings seen constantly throughout the novel.
Pilate's moonlight dream clearly shows his regret at Yeshua's death and
his sense of his own cowardice, but Pilate appears to be beyond help. The
bloody business of Judas' death is at hand, and Pilate accepts Aphranius'
evasive assurance that Judas is indeed dead. Pilate has also predicted
that Yeshua's body will be taken, but it is impossible not to compare the
subdued story of Matthew Levi helping bury Yeshua with the Gospel accounts
of Jesus's resurrection. Here, events take place on a much more mundane
level, and the bribe offered Matthew Levi is only a job as a librarian. In
another mundane instance, Matthew Levi's murderous desire is quelled by
the simple fact that Judas is already dead.
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 27-28
Pavel Yosifovich: A guard at the currency store.
As Margarita finishes reading the chapter, Saturday morning has come to
Moscow. The police are busy investigating Woland's appearance. Sempleyarov
was called to the investigation headquarters and questioned about the
magic show, and apartment 50 was visited more than once to check for
hiding places and occupants without finding anything. There is no evidence
of Woland's presence in Moscow. Prokhor Petrovich has returned to his suit
but knows nothing about Woland. Rimsky was found hiding in the wardrobe of
a Leningrad hotel room and ordered to return to Moscow on Friday evening.
Styopa was found to have left Yalta in a plane headed for Moscow, and
everyone else but Varenukha has been found. The investigators visited Ivan
at the clinic on Friday evening. He answered questions about Koroviev and
Berlioz's death, and the man who questioned him decided that Berlioz was
hypnotized when he died. At dawn on Saturday, Styopa disembarked and was
greeted by investigators, and Varenukha has at last been found in his
apartment. Varenukha, after initially lying, talks about being beaten by
Koroviev and a fat man resembling a cat, and Rimsky comes in on the
Leningrad train but reveals no information. After more questioning of
other witnesses, a company of men arrive at 302-bis on Saturday afternoon.
Koroviev, Azazello, Woland, and Behemoth are in apartment 50 awaiting
their arrest. The company uses skeleton keys to enter the apartment. They
find Behemoth holding a primus on the dining room table. He dodges an
attempt to catch him with a net, but is shot by a Mauser blast. Behemoth
drinks benzene to heal his wound, takes his Browning out, and opens fire.
The ensuing shootout wounds no one, and Behemoth, declaring it "time to
go," uses the benzene to set fire to the apartment. The company of men
escapes, and Woland and his retinue fly out of the apartment. Koroviev and
Behemoth make their way to a currency store on the Smolensky marketplace,
which serves as a department store selling items in exchange for foreign
currency. Behemoth transforms himself into a cat-like fat man, holding a
primus, when he is told no cats are allowed in the store. They enter, and
Behemoth eats some mandarins, a chocolate bar, and three herrings. After a
salesgirl calls for Pavel Yosifovich, he arrives and calls for the doorman
to blow a whistle. A crowd surrounds Behemoth and Koroviev, who makes a
weak protest. Behemoth's benzene goes ablaze, and the pair escape to the
Griboedov House, where a woman asks them for their writers' identification
cards, which are required for entrance, but they have none. Archibald
Archibaldovich, the restaurant manager, orders her to let them in, and
they, together with Archibald, sit down at the best table in the
restaurant. Archibald leaves the pair at their table to look after the
preparation of the fillets of hazel-grouse being served them and, as some
guests talk about the fires set across Moscow, three armed men enter and
open fire at Koroviev and Behemoth. The two vanish, and the benzene sets
fire to the Griboedov House.
Margarita has endured her trials without suffering damage from them, a
sign of her strong and resilient character. Meanwhile, the Muscovite
authorities, like Aphranius' henchman, have trouble finding the men
they're looking for. The parallelism of these searches for criminal
culprits cannot be accidental, and seems meant to highlight some
underlying similarities between Yershalaim and Moscow. The Moscow
investigation leads nowhere, as the earlier successes in exposing currency
hoarders are followed by an inability to track down Woland and his
retinue, who have brazenly flouted the law. Here, petty criminals are
rigorously prosecuted, while large-scale crime goes unpunished. The
miserable condition of most of Woland's victims contrasts with Ivan's
dreaminess and plain indifference.
The episode of the chase, with Koroviev and Behemoth using their
manipulation of time and space to escape, reprises earlier instances of
such artifice. This artifice has some similarity with the master's attempt
to reach back two thousand years to tell the story of Pilate. In Moscow
though, it is simply used to effect a quick, mysterious escape. Archibald
Archibaldovich's suave, tactical treatment of Koroviev and Behemoth
recalls the ease with which Margarita handled her trial. He, like her, has
the ability to cope with and manage serious and threatening characters.
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 29-32
Woland and Azazello are sitting on the stone terrace of an old Moscow
house, looking over the city as the sun sets. Matthew Levi, who has been
sent by Yeshua, appears on the terrace and asks that Woland to give the
master and Margarita peace, rather than the light. Woland agrees, Matthew
Levi leaves, and Koroviev and Behemoth, who still appears as a fat man,
arrive. Woland tells them that one last storm is coming to complete
things, and the storm arrives, darkening the skies over Moscow.
As Matthew Levi appears on the terrace, the master and Margarita awake and
talk in their basement. She tells a disbelieving master that they were
really at Satan's, and she struck a deal with him and is now a witch.
Azazello appears to say Woland has invited the couple to go on an
excursion with him. They agree to go. Azazello takes a bottle of the same
wine Pilate had drunk and pours it into glasses. The wine is poisoned, and
upon it both the master and Margarita fall ill and die. Azazello then
pours some drops of the wine into Margarita's mouth to revive her.
Margarita helps give the master some wine, and he too revives. The couple
leaves after Azazello starts a fire in the basement, and the three jump on
their steeds and fly over Moscow. The master and Margarita go to the
clinic to visit Ivan and say farewell. Margarita kisses Ivan and tells
him, "[E]verything will be as it should be with you." The couple leave,
and Praskovya Fyodorovna, the nurse, reveals that the master has just died
in room 118.
Master, Margarita, and Azazello join Woland, Koroviev, and Behemoth on
their horses, on a hill overlooking Moscow. As the master gives one last
look on Moscow, Behemoth and Koroviev give their own farewell whistles.
Woland cries "It's time!" and the six steeds and their riders depart in
the sky, with Margarita looking back to see nothing of Moscow.
The horses tire as evening settles on the earth and night emerges.
Koroviev changes into a knight, and Woland explains that the knight is
here because he made an unfortunate joke about light and darkness on a
night "when accounts are settled." Behemoth is transformed into a thin
youth, and Azazello's face turns white and cold, taking on the visage of
"the demon of the waterless desert." The master's hair turns white, and
Woland's horse becomes "a mass of darkness." Eventually the riders stop
their horses near Pilate, who sits in an armchair on a desolate summit,
accompanied by his dog, who like Pilate looks up at the moon. Pilate has
slept on his chair for 2000 years, but he and his dog, Banga, are overcome
by insomnia during full moons. Pilate always dreams that he wants to walk
with Yeshua on a path in the moonlight, but can't reach the path, so only
talks to himself, cursing his immortality and fame. The master shouts to
Pilate that he is free, and Yeshua waits for him. The mountains collapse,
leaving just the armchair, and a city arises, with the moonlight path
shining on it. Pilate and Banga rush down this path. Woland bids farewell
to the master and Margarita, the scene disappears, and dawn breaks just
after the midnight moon. The couple walk over a small stone bridge along a
path, and Margarita points to the master's eternal home, where he will
sleep and she will watch over him.
Woland and Azazello's retreat from Moscow indicates that the novel is
heading toward its denouement. The crucial events are finished, now it
remains to determine characters' fates. So Matthew Levi appears to tell
Woland the master and Margarita deserve peace rather than light as a
reward for their courage. The couple may not be angelic, but they are
The killing of the couple by Azazello is the result of their courage in
deciding to stay together and bear their woes together. Again alcohol
produces a change in characters, this time for the worse, but it also
paves the way for their fate to be resolved. The apartment's destruction
by fire serves as a reflection of the death of the couple. It emphasizes
that both their home and their past are concluded, and they are beginning
a new life. But the farewell to Ivan shows that he too is being given a
reward for his trials.
The transformations of Koroviev and Behemoth seems to turn them back into
the people they originally were, before being condemned to serve Woland.
They, in any case, are a sidelight to the drama of Pilate, who, still a
coward, is still alone, weary, and living in a shadowy world. It is not
easy to tell why the master is assigned the job of freeing Pilate. Perhaps
his artistic paternalism of Pilate, in the form of writing his novel about
the procurator, has given him the authority to free Pilate. Yeshua and
Pilate are now able to renew their ancient conversation, and the master
and Margarita gain their eternal, peaceful life in their new home. The
master's sleep seems to be a mark of his redemption, as the suffering he
has endured is replaced with a long, restful slumber.
Summary and Analysis: Epilogue
Back in Moscow, the narrator surveys the aftermath of Woland's appearance.
Rumors of unclean powers have spread, but Woland himself has simply
disappeared. Many black cats have been killed, and some citizens with
names similar to Koroviev and Woland were detained. Most citizens dismiss
the entire affair as a case of artful mass hypnosis, but the populace
remains on edge. Natasha and Margarita have disappeared, and people
generally think Woland's retinue took them because of their beauty.
Georges Bengalsky has lost his vigor and retired, while Varenukha became
pleasant and kind, and Styopa has grown healthier but keeps away from
women. Rimsky has left his post to head up a children's marionette
theatre, Sempleyarov is now manager of a mushroom cannery, and Bosoy has
stopped going to the theatre. Ivan, meanwhile, appears at the Patriarch's
Ponds at every festal spring full moon, which is the first after the
equinox. He sits on the bench where he sat on the day Berlioz died, talks
to himself for an hour or two, then goes to the Arbat. There, he goes to a
Gothic mansion and sees Margarita's old husband sitting on a bench in the
house's garden, muttering about his fate. Ivan goes home sick. In his
recurring dream on this night, he sees an executioner stab his spear into
the heart of Gestas, one of the men executed on Bald Mountain. Then Ivan
receives an injection, and sees in his dream Pilate and Yeshua, walking on
a moonlight path and talking about Yeshua's execution. Ivan is then led by
a beautiful woman to the master, and the woman says, "Everything with you
will be as it should be," before kissing him on the forehead. After the
moonlight floods Ivan, he begins to sleep with a blissful face.
It remains for the epilogue to describe the consequences down in Moscow of
Woland's visit. The bungled investigation and general paranoia create many
innocent victims, most notably the cats. In becoming anonymous to the
authorities, the master has gained oblivion, which is perhaps the rarest
gift available in a state that obsessively monitors its citizens. Nearly
all those who were in contact with Woland and his retinue are damaged, and
the prediction of Sokov's death came true. But Ivan, still haunted by his
meeting with Woland, cannot escape from the story of Yeshua and Pilate. He
too, it seems, is rewarded for his bravery by being granted peace, albeit
in a temporary form.
Questions and Answers: Chapter 1
1. What is for sale at the stand with the sign "Beer and Soft Drinks"?
2. Why is Berlioz upset with Ivan Homeless' poem about Jesus Christ?
3. What nations do Berlioz and Ivan think the Professor comes from?
4. Who does the Professor predict will kill Berlioz?
5. How does the Professor describe himself?
1. The stand has no seltzer or beer for sale, only warm apricot soda.
2. Berlioz says the poem presents Jesus as a living person when it should
present him as someone who never existed.
3. Berlioz thinks the Professor comes from Germany, then France, and Ivan
thinks he comes from England, then Poland.
4. The Professor predicts a Russian woman who belongs to the Komsomol will
5. The Professor describes himself as a polyglot who knows "a great number
of languages," "a specialist in black magic," a historian, and perhaps a
Questions and Answers: Chapter 2
1. Why does Pontius Pilate fear he will have "a bad day"?
2. What happens to Yeshua after he calls Pilate a "good man"?
3. What is Yeshua's reaction to the writings of Matthew Levi?
4. How does Yeshua say he entered Yershalaim?
5. Why does Pilate squint his eyes as he mounts the platform?
1. Pilate fears he will have a bad day because he has been pursued by the
smell of rose oil since dawn.
2. Pilate has Mark Ratslayer beat Yeshua with a whip and tell him to call
Pilate Hegemon and stand at attention.
3. Yeshua claims he has said none of the things Levi has attributed to
him, and he asks Levi to burn his writings.
4. He says he entered Yershalaim "by the Susa gate, but on foot,
accompanied only by Matthew Levi" and no one recognized him as he entered.
5. Pilate squints his eyes because he does "not want to see the group of
condemned men" being brought to the platform.
Questions and Answers: Chapters 3-4
1. Who is the last person Berlioz sees before he dies?
2. What is the Professor's reply to Ivan's question, "[W]ho are you"?
3. Who does Ivan think the Choirmaster is?
4. Where does Ivan realize he will find the Professor?
5. When Ivan comes out of the Moscow River, what does he find in place of
1. The last person Berlioz sees is the citizen who had formed "himself out
of the thick swelter" earlier, a man with checkered trousers, a small
mustache, and tiny eyes.
2. The Professor's reply is "no understand
no speak Russian."
3. Ivan thinks the Choirmaster is in partnership with the Professor and is
trying to keep Ivan from catching the Professor.
4. Ivan realizes he will find the Professor in house 13, apartment 47.
5. Ivan finds "a pair of striped drawers, the torn Tolstoy blouse, the
candle, the icon and a box of matches.
Questions and Answers: Chapters 5-6
1. How is Griboedov's restaurant described?
2. What two things happen exactly at midnight?
3. Where is the psychiatric clinic?
4. What does Ivan denounce Riukhin as?
5. What measure does Ivan take to catch the Professor?
1. Griboedov's restaurant is described as being richly decorated, having a
select clientele, and offering top-quality food for reasonable prices.
2. The twelve writers go down to Griboedov's restaurant, and the
Griboedov's jazz band starts playing.
3. The psychiatric clinic is "on the outskirts of Moscow by the bank of
4. Ivan denounces Riukhin as "a little kulak carefully disguising himself
as a proletarian."
5. Ivan uses a small candle and the icon to catch the Consultant.
Questions and Answers: Chapters 7-8
1. What began happening two years ago at apartment 50?
2. Why does Styopa have trouble speaking?
3. How much is Woland to be paid for his performances of black magic?
4. Where does Styopa find himself after leaving apartment 50?
5. What does Dr. Stravinsky believe will happen to Ivan if he goes to the
1. Two years ago, people began disappearing from apartment 50 without a
2. Styopa has trouble speaking because "at each word, someone stuck a
needle into his brain, causing infernal pain.
3. Woland is to be paid 10,000 rubles up front, "as an advance on the
thirty-five thousand rubles due him for seven performances.
4. He finds himself at the end of a jetty in the city of Yalta.
5. Dr Stravinsky believes Ivan will be back at the clinic in two hours if
Ivan goes to the police.
Questions and Answers: Chapters 9-10
1. Who is Bosoy?
2. How much does Koroviev pay to rent apartment 50?
3. What does Rimsky think of the black magic show?
4. What does Varenukha hear when he calls the Likhodeev apartment?
5. Why does Varenukha stop on his way to deliver the telegrams?
1. Bosoy is the "chairman of the tenants' association of no. 302-bis on
Sadovaya Street in Moscow," Berlioz's former residence.
2. Koroviev pays five thousand rubles to rent apartment 50.
3. He completely dislikes the black magic show and is "surprised he's been
allowed to present it."
4. Varenukha hears "a heavy, gloomy voice singing:
rocks, my refuge
when he calls the Likhodeev apartment.
5. Varenukha stops on his way to deliver the telegrams because he feels an
irrepressible desire "to check whether the repairman had put a wire screen
over the light-bulb" in the summer toilet.
Questions and Answers: Chapters 11-12
1. What is Ivan worried about as he starts to write his statement about
2. How is Georges Bengalsky described?
3. What is the first trick Fagott performs?
4. What does Woland say about the audience?
5. What does Fagott say Sempleyarov did the previous night?
1. Ivan is worried that if he describes Berlioz as being deceased it might
lead the clinic to "take him for a madman."
2. Georges Bengalsky is described as plump, wearing "a rumpled tailcoat
and none-too-fresh shirt," and with a clean-shaven face.
3. The first trick Fagott performs is to flip a deck of cards to the cat,
then have the cat send the cards back, with Fagott swallowing the cards.
4. "They love money," like all people, and "the housing problem has
5. Fagott says Sempleyarov went to visit his mistress on Yelokhovskaya
Questions and Answers: Chapter 13
1. What things upset Ivan's guest?
2. What languages does Ivan's guest know?
3. What did Ivan's guest know the end of his novel would be?
4. What was the title of Latunsky's article on Ivan's guest?
5. How did Ivan's guest get to the clinic?
1. Ivan's guest is upset by noise, violence, and, in particular, people's
2. Ivan's guest knows Russian, English, French, German, Latin, and Greek.
3. "The fifth procurator of Judea, the equestrian Pontius Pilate."
4. The title of Latunsky's article was "A Militant Old Believer."
5. Ivan's guest began walking to the clinic, then was picked up by a truck
driver who was driving to the clinic.
Questions and Answers: Chapters 14-15
1. How has Varenukha's appearance changed?
2. What interrupts the dead woman?
3. Who are the members of the audience in Bosoy's dream?
4. What was Dunchil hiding in his mistress' apartment?
5. What does the artist say about the human eye?
1. Varenukha now has a pale, chalk-like pallor on his face, and his eyes
display furtiveness and cowardliness.
2. The crowing of a cock in the garden interrupts the dead woman.
3. All the members of the audience are bearded men.
4. Dunchil was hiding "Eighteen thousand dollars and a necklace worth
forty thousand in gold."
5. The artist says the human eye cannot conceal the truth.
Questions and Answers: Chapters 16-17
1. Where is Matthew Levi during the execution of the three men?
2. How does Matthew Levi get his bread knife?
3. What does Matthew Levi do with his bread knife?
4. What forces the employees of the affiliate for city spectacles to sing?
5. What does the bookkeeper find when he opens his bundle at the cash
1. Matthew Levi sits on a stone under a sickly fig tree on the north side
of the mountain during the execution of the three men.
2. Matthew Levi takes his bread knife from the counter of a bread shop in
3. Matthew Levi uses his bread knife to cut the ropes binding the three
executed men to their posts.
4. The secretary of the affiliate for city spectacles says the employees
are forced to sing by "some sort of mass hypnosis."
5. The bookkeeper finds various kinds of foreign money when he opens his
bundle at the cash deposit window.
Questions and Answers: Chapter 18
1. Why does Poplavsky go to Moscow?
2. How does Poplavsky respond to Koroviev when he says the cat sent
Poplavsky the telegram?
3. How is the man who asks Poplavsky about the location of apartment 50
4. What is the girl in apartment 50 wearing?
5. How much money does Woland say the barman has?
1. Poplavsky goes to Moscow to try to get occupancy of Berlioz's
2. Poplavsky goggles his eyes in disbelief when he hear the cat send him
3. The man who asks Poplavsky about the location of apartment 50 is tiny
and elderly, "with an extraordinarily melancholy face."
4. The girl in apartment 50 is wearing a small lacy apron, "a white fichu
on her head," and golden slippers on her feet.
5. Woland says the barman has 249,000 rubles in five savings banks "and
two hundred ten-ruble gold pieces at home under the floor."
Questions and Answers: Chapters 19-20
1. Who is Margarita married to?
2. How does Margarita interpret her dream of the master?
3. When does Azazello encounter Margarita?
4. What are Azazello's instructions to Margarita?
5. What does Margarita do with her shift?
1. Margarita is married to Nikolai Ivanovich, "a very prominent
specialist" who has made a very important discovery.
2. Margarita interprets her dream of the master to mean that he is either
dead, and she will die soon to join him, or he is alive, and they "will
see each other very soon!"
3. Azazello encounters Margarita just after she says she'd pawn her "soul
to the devil just to find out" if the master is alive or not.
4. Azazello tells Margarita to take off her clothes at 9:30 and rub her
face and body with the ointment, then wait for him to call her at 10.
5. Margarita throws her shift over her husband's head.
Questions and Answers: Chapters 21-22
1. Where does Latunsky live?
2. How does Margarita realize she is flying very rapidly?
3. What does the hog carry with him?
4. How were three rooms changed into six?
5. What is Abaddon's appearance?
1. Latunsky lives in apartment 84 of the "House of Dramatists and Literary
2. Margarita realizes she is flying very rapidly once she looks down and
sees two rows of lights quickly vanish beneath her.
3. The hog carries a briefcase in his front hoofs, a pince-nez on a
string, and a hat.
4. Three rooms were changed into six by dividing one room of a three-room
apartment in two, trading the apartment for a three-room and a two-room
apartment, then trading the three-room apartment for two two-room
5. Abaddon's appearance is as a gaunt man with dark glasses.
Questions and Answers: Chapter 23
1. What is Margarita washed in?
2. What does the cat think is the worst job in the world?
3. What did Frieda do with her handkerchief?
4. What happens to Berlioz's head?
5. What does Woland say Baron Miegel is being accused of?
1. Margarita is first washed in blood, then in rose oil.
2. The cat thinks being a tram conductor is the worst job in the world.
3. Frieda used her handkerchief to choke her newborn boy.
4. The flesh of Berlioz's head turns dark and shriveled, then falls off in
pieces, and its eyes disappear.
5. Woland says "wicked tongues" are calling Baron Miegel "a stool-pigeon
and a spy."
Questions and Answers: Chapter 24
1. What target does Azazello shoot at?
2. What does Margarita think she will do if she gets out of Woland's
3. What does Woland say about mercy?
4. Where is the master's manuscript?
5. Where does Annushka hide the diamond-studded horseshoe and napkin?
1. Azazello shoots at the upper right-hand pip in the seven of spades.
2. Margarita thinks she will drown herself in the river if she gets out of
3. Woland says mercy "sometimes creeps, quite unexpectedly and
perfidiously, through the narrowest cracks."
4. The master's manuscript is on the top of a "thick stack of manuscripts"
the cat is sitting on.
5. Annushka hides the diamond-studded horseshoe and napkin in her bosom
Questions and Answers: Chapter 25
1. When do the sun's rays return to Yershalaim?
2. What does Pilate's guest say "can be guaranteed in this world"?
3. What, according to Yeshua, is one of the first among human vices?
4. Where does Judas of Kiriath work?
5. When does Pilate notice the sun has set?
1. The sun's rays return to Yershalaim just as Pilate's visitor appears on
2. Pilate's guest says "the power of great Caesar" is the only thing that
"can be guaranteed in this world."
3. Yeshua says cowardice is one of the first among human vices.
4. Judas of Kiriath "works in the money-changing shop of one of his
5. Pilate notices the sun has set only after the head of the secret
service has left the balcony.
Questions and Answers: Chapter 26
1. What does Niza say is the reason she decided to go out of town?
2. What does Judas see above the temple?
3. In Pilate's dream, what does he think of the execution of Yeshua?
4. Where did Matthew Levi take Yeshua's body?
5. What position does Pilate offer Matthew Levi?
1. She says she decided to go out of town because she would have been
bored if Judas came to her house.
2. Judas sees "two gigantic five-branched candlesticks" blaze above the
3. In Pilate's dream, he thinks the execution of Yeshua never happened
because Yeshua is walking beside Pilate, and because "it would be terrible
even to think" of executing Yeshua.
4. Matthew Levi took Yeshua's body with him into "a cave on the northern
slope of Bald Skull."
5. Pilate offers Matthew Levi a job sorting and looking after the papyri
in Pilate's library in Caeserea.
Questions and Answers: Chapter 27-28
1. How did Dr. Stravinsky cure the staff from involuntarily singing
2. What did the investigator conclude about Berlioz's death?
3. What does the cat do after saying it's time for him to go?
4. What does the cat say about Dostoevsky?
5. What happens when the three men shoot at Koroviev and the cat?
1. Dr. Stravinsky cured the staff of involuntarily singing "Glorious Sea"
by giving them subcutaneous injections.
2. The investigator concluded Berlioz threw "himself under the tram-car
3. The cat hurls his Browning, knocks out the two window panes, then
splashes some benzene, which catches fire.
4. The cat says "Dostoevsky is immortal!"
5. When the three men shoot at Koroviev and the cat, the two disappear and
a pillar of fire from the primus shoots onto the tent roof.
Questions and Answers: Chapters 29-32
1. What does Matthew Levi say of the master?
2. What will the storm do?
3. What does Margarita say she likes?
4. What does Woland tell Koroviev to avoid?
5. What will Margarita do once the master falls asleep in his eternal
1. Matthew Levi says the master "does not deserve the light, he deserves
2. The storm "will complete all that needs completing."
3. Margarita says she likes "quickness and nakedness."
4. Woland tells Koroviev to avoid inflicting any injuries.
5. Margarita says she will always be with him, watching over his sleep.
Questions and Answers: Epilogue
1. Who has died as a result of the visit of Woland and his companions?
2. What happened to black cats after Woland left?
3. What do the investigators learn about the master?
4. What has happened to Georges Bengalsky?
5. What is Ivan's new job?
1. Berlioz and Baron Meigel die because of Woland's visit.
2. Approximately one hundred blacks cats were killed, and about another
dozen were badly disfigured.
3. The investigators fail to learn why the master was abducted, and they
never learn his last name.
4. Georges Bengalsky has lost much of his gaiety and retired from his job
to live on his savings. Every spring during the full moon falls into an
5. Ivan is now a Professor and a researcher at the Institute of History
The actions taken by the devil, Woland, and his associates in Moscow seem
to be carried out for no reason. From the beginning, when Woland predicts
the unlikely circumstances of Berlioz's beheading, to the end, when
Behemoth stages a shoot-out with the entire police force, there seems to
be no motivation other than sheer mischief. After a while, though, their
trickery reveals a pattern of preying upon the greedy, who think they can
reap benefits they have not earned. For example, when a bribe is given to
the chairman of the tenants' association, Bosoi, Woland tells Korovyov to
"fix it so that he doesn't come here again." Bosoi is then arrested, which
punishes him for exploiting his position. Similarly, the audience that
attends Woland's black magic show is delighted by a shower of money only
to find out the next day that they are holding blank paper, while the
women who thought they were receiving fine new clothes later find
themselves in the streets in their underwear. These deceptions appear
mean-spirited and pointless, but the victims in each case are blinded by
their interest in material goods.
Guilt and Innocence
The story of Pontius Pilate serves to raise fundamental questions about
guilt. As the Procurator of Judea, the representative of the Roman
government in Israel, Pilate is responsible for passing judgment on people
the Israelis have arrested and brought before him. In Yeshua's case, he
feels guilty having to sentence Yeshua to death. Pilate's conscience is
awakened during his interview with Yeshua; he shows a fascination with the
idea of acceptance, but because of his position he is not able to
completely believe in it nor is he able to forget about the idea of evil.
The subsequent feelings of guilt over having sent an innocent man to death
are compounded when it is reported that, at his death, Yeshua blamed no
one for what happened to him, and "that he regarded cowardice as one of
the worst human sins." To lighten his guilt, Pilate orders the death of
Judas, the man who turned Yeshua over to the authorities. However, Pilate
is left eternally discontent; "there is no peace for him by moonlight and
his duty is a hard one."
Good and Evil
The traditional understanding of the devil is that he is the embodiment of
evil, and that any benefits one might expect from an association with him
are illusory. In The Master and Margarita, the devil is portrayed slightly
different. In the story he does take advantage of the people with whom he
comes into contact, offering them money and goods that later disappear;
however, he does not send any souls to hell. In fact, Bulgakov's depiction
of the devil has him catering to a request made by Yeshua: he leaves the
world with the souls of the Master and Margarita and in the afterlife the
two souls are given a cottage in which they are united forever. Far more
evil than the devil in this book is the literary establishment, which
ruins the Master, indulges in gluttonous behavior, and aligns with the
controlling Soviet government. By comparison, the actions of Woland and
his associates can be looked at positively as they may actually lead
people to better themselves. However, most of the victims of Satan
attribute their experiences to hypnotism, putting the responsibility for
their woes on the devil, not on themselves.
In the case of Jesus, the novel portrays him as an obscure figure, a pawn
in a political struggle. Whereas Jesus of the Bible is a celebrated
prophet, with a dozen disciples and crowds of thousands who would come to
hear him speak and welcome him, Yeshua has one follower, Levi Matvei, who
is so mentally unstable that Yeshua himself is uneasy around him. Rather
than a gospel of love, Yeshua's message is the more psychological
observation that "there are no evil people on earth."
Artists and Society
Both of the true artists in this book, the Master and Ivan, end up in the
mental institution under Dr. Stravinsky's care, while less talented people
feast on opulent meals and listen to dance bands at Griboyedov House. The
damage caused by false artists goes beyond greed and laziness: when the
Master produces his novel the established writers mock him and his book
before the public has a chance to see it. This negative reaction does not
harm the Master financially--he is independently wealthy from having won
the lottery-but it crushes his artistic sensibilities and drives him to
madness. As a result, he burns his work and wanders aimlessly in the cold.
He is then admitted to the asylum. Even in his insanity, though, the
Master knows himself: he realizes that he has lost his identity and that
he probably could not survive outside if he escaped the asylum. He
suffered so greatly for having created a work of true art that in the end,
when Woland restores his burned manuscript, he is hesitant to take it: "I
have no more dreams and my inspiration is dead," he says, adding that he
hates the novel because "I have been through too much for it."
As for Ivan, the Master, during their initial meeting, tells the writer he
should write no more poetry, a request Ivan agrees to honor. Later, as the
Master leaves, he calls Ivan "my protégé." By the end of the story, Ivan
becomes a historian, which is the position that the Master held before his
novel about Pontius Pilate dramatically changed his life.
This book uses a complex version of the story-in-story structure, weaving
the narrative about Pontius Pilate in through the text of the story that
takes place during the twentieth century in Moscow. The chapters about
Pilate are continuous, following the same four-day sequence of events, and
they are coherent, with the same tone of seriousness in the voice
throughout the Pilate story. In one sense, their cohesion shows Bulgakov
breaking the rules of narrative, because these chapters spring from the
minds of different characters. Chapter two is presented as a story told by
Woland to Berlioz and Ivan, chapter sixteen is supposed to be Margarita's
dream, and chapters twenty-five and twenty-six are allegedly from the
Master's novel. Bulgakov tells the events in all of these with one voice
because doing so strengthens readers' senses of how much these characters
are alike in their thinking.
Critics have noted that this book follows the tradition of Mennipean
Satire, named after Mennipus, the philosopher and Cynic who lived in
Greece in the third century BC. Cynics were a school of Greek thinkers,
founded by Diogenes of Sinope, who felt that civilization was artificial
and unnatural, and who therefore mocked behaviors that were considered
socially "proper." Diogenes is best remembered for carrying a lantern
through Athens in broad daylight looking for an "honest man," but he also
is said to have pantomimed sexual acts in the streets, urinated in public,
and barked at people (the word "cynic" is believed to come from the Greek
word meaning "doglike"). Cynics are remembered for being distrustful of
human nature and motives: even today, people use the word "cynical" to
describe someone who expects the worst of people.
The satires of Mennipus, written in a combination of prose and verse, made
fun of pretensions and intellectual charades. The elite were also
ridiculed in Mennipus' plays, as they are in The Master and Margarita. The
Roman scholar Marcus Tarentius Varro, living in the first century BC, took
up this style when he wrote his Saturarum Mennipearum Libri CL (150 Books
of Mennipean Satires, c. 8167 BC). The form has continued through the
centuries, distinguished from other satires by the wide range of society
it derides and the harshness with which it mocks. From the eighteenth
century, Alexander Pope's ruthless Dunciad is considered a Mennipean
Satire, as is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, from 1932. In the 1960s and
1970s, around the time that The Master and Margarita was published, the
form proved useful for Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to express
his outrage with the Soviet system.
The symbolic aspects of this novel serve to both render a clear vision of
the action while also linking the spirit of the different plot lines
together. Of these, the most notable are the sun and the moon, which are
mentioned constantly throughout, giving the sense that they are the true
observers of the action. The first page of the novel, with Berlioz and
Ivan at Patriarch's Ponds, begins "at the sunset hour," and goes on to
introduce the devil as the sun recedes. Pontius Pilate's headache is
worsened by the blaring sun, as is, the following day, Yeshua's suffering
on the cross. In contrast, the Master and Ivan are both tormented by
moonlight, which plays with their sanity. Traditionally, sunlight is
associated with logic and rationality, while the light of the moon is
often related to the subconscious. Another major symbol is the mention of
thunderstorms, which appear in the most significant places in the book.
The storm that gathers while Yeshua is on the cross and breaks upon his
death is notable for its ferocity, as is the storm that washes over Moscow
at the end, while Woland and his associates settle their business and
leave. Writers often use a thunderstorm to symbolize the release of one
character's pentup emotions. In The Master and Margarita, the storms can
be seen as the crying out of whole cultures, ancient and modern, as they
become aware of how diseased their social systems are.
The book has numerous other events and objects that can be seen as
symbolic because they refer one's thoughts to broader philosophical issues
than those at hand. Foreign currency, for instance, can be equated with
non-Soviet ideas, with value that the government tries to suppress; the
blood-red wine that Pilate spills does not wash away, like the sins on his
soul; and the empty suit that carries on business, as well as the
Theatrical Commission staff that finds itself unable to stop singing "The
Song of the Vulga Boatmen," all represent the mindlessness of the
bureaucratic system. These are just a few of the elements that add meaning
to the story if read as being symbolic as well as actual.
8. HISTORICAL CONTEXT
The Stalin Era
Bulgakov's writing career, particularly the twelve-year period between
1928 and 1940 when he worked on The Master and Margarita, was marked by
Russia's transition from the monarchic empire ruled by Nicholas II, who
was overthrown in the Russian Revolution in 1917, and the totalitarian
Communist government that ruled the country throughout most of the
twentieth century. The first post-revolutionary head of the country,
Vladimir Lenin, had the practical concern of protecting the country from
enemies and establishing the Soviet power base. He guided the country
through the 1918 to 1921 civil war and kept the economy mixed, partially
nationalized and partially privatized.
In 1922, two years before Lenin's death, Joseph Stalin rose to be the
secretary general of the Communist Party, and he used this position to
gain control of the Soviet Union when Lenin died. Stalin felt that the
country was far behind the world's more industrialized nations--at least a
hundred years behind, in fact. He put forward programs, all part of what
he called his "Five Year Plan," intended to increase production quickly.
One place he pushed for change was agriculture. There were about
twenty-five million farms in the Soviet Union in the mid-1920s, but few
produced enough food to feed anyone but the families who lived on them.
Successful farmers who made a profit were called "kulaks." Stalin proposed
state-run agricultural collectives, which would produce enough to feed the
whole country. The kulaks resisted. In 1929, he called for the
"liquidation" of the kulaks, and in fighting to keep their farms they
destroyed crops, livestock, and farming tools. Nearly one-third of
Russia's cattle and half of the horses were destroyed between 1929 and
1933. Successful farmers were taken away to prisons. Soldiers were sent
out across the land, arresting farmers who owned private land. In 1928,
only 1.7 percent of Soviet peasants lived on collective farms, but that
number grew rapidly with the military action: 4.1 percent of the peasants
were on collective farms in October of 1929, a number that jumped to 21
percent just four months later and then 58 percent three months after
that. By the end of the decade, 99 percent of the Soviet Union's
cultivated land was collective farms, while millions of kulaks who had
been taken from their farms labored in prison camps.
Stalin's Five Year Plan also reorganized Soviet industry. The government
organization "Gosplan," with half a million employees, had the task of
planning productivity goals for all industries and checking with factories
to see if they were meeting their goals, all with the intent of raising
Russia's annual growth rate by 50 percent. Factory managers and workers
who were seen as holding back progress, even for safety or economic
reasons, were arrested and sent off to labor camps. Fearing punishment,
many workers stayed at their jobs twelve and fourteen hours a day, while
other factories, with no hope of reaching their assigned production
levels, took the chance of falsifying paperwork. From 1928 to 1937 Russian
steel production rose from 4 to 17.7 million tons; electricity output rose
700 percent; tractor production rose 40,000 percent. The country's
national income rose from 24.4 billion rubles to 96.3 billion. The price,
of course, was freedom, and readers of Bulgakov can see the dangers of
being in a closed, controlling society with limited resources.
The Brezhnev Years
Tension between the Soviet Union and the United States was at its greatest
between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s. At the time, these were the
world's two leading "super power" nations, and they competed against each
other for technological superiority in the race to put humans on the moon
and military superiority in the buildup of nuclear arms. In 1964, Nikita
Khrushchev, the Soviet leader most identified with the Cold War, was
forced from power in a coup d'etat, and was replaced by the duo of Leonid
Brezhnev as the Communist Party leader and Aleksei Kosygin as Soviet
Premier. The early part of their rule, from 1964 to 1970, was a period of
reformation and stabilization. Brezhnev had risen up through the ranks of
the Communist Party and was not interested in changing the social system,
just in making the system function more smoothly within the structure set
by the Soviet governing body, the Politburo.
The year 1967, when The Master and Margarita was finally published, was a
time of youth rebellion in the United States, but the same spirit of
rebelliousness pervaded in other countries across the world as well. One
of the most notable instances of riots against the government came in
Czechoslovakia, where, during the "Prague Spring" of 1968, protesters
almost shut down the country's Communist government. Because
Czechoslovakia was an ally of the Soviet Union, Brezhnev sent Soviet
troops across the border, into Czechoslovakia, to defeat the protesters
and to keep control of the country for the Communists. It was a turning
point in Soviet history, showing the world that the Soviet Union would go
to great lengths to defend Communism.
The fact that Bulgakov's book was finally published after nearly thirty
years should not be taken as an indicator that the government was relaxing
its policies toward artistic works judged to be critical of the political
system. Writers were regularly arrested for spreading "anti-Soviet
propaganda" if their work showed any flaws in the system, and convicted
writers were sent to work in forced labor camps or to languish in mental
asylums for "paranoid schizophrenia." Only a writer who managed to sneak
his works out of the country and reach an international audience could
avoid a harsh punishment from the government, which had its reputation
within the international community to protect. This happened to Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 and was
expelled from the country in 1974.
9. CRITICAL OVERVIEW
Bulgakov was reviewed with respect during his lifetime, although it was
not until the world saw The Master and Margarita, published almost thirty
years after his death, that he came to be generally recognized as one of
the great talents of the twentieth century. During his lifetime, his
literary reputation stood mostly on the quality of the plays that he wrote
for the Moscow theater, and, because of the totalitarian nature of Soviet
politics, critics were at least as concerned with the plays' political
content as their artistic merit. In the years after his death, Bulgakov's
reputation grew slowly.
Writing about Bulgakov's novel The White Guard in 1935's Soviet Russian
Literature, Gleb Strave was unimpressed, noting, "As a literary work it is
not of any great outstanding significance. It is a typical realistic novel
written in simple language, without any stylistic or compositional
refinements." Strave went on in his review to express a preference for
Bulgakov's short stories, which were unrealistic and fanciful. In 1968,
when The Master and Margarita was released in the West, Strave was still
an active critic of Soviet literature. His review of the book in The
Russia Review predicted the attention that it would soon obtain, but
Strave did not think that it was worth that attention, mainly because of
the story line with Margarita and the Master, which he felt "somehow does
not come off." True to his prediction, though, critics welcomed the novel
with glowing praise when it was published. Writing in The Nation, Donald
Fanger predicted that "Bulgakov's brilliant and moving extravaganza
may well be one of the major novels of the Russian Twentieth Century." He
placed Bulgakov in the company of such literary giants as Samuel Beckett,
Vladimir Nabakov, William Burroughs, and Norman Mailer.
Many critics have focused their attention on the meaning of The Master and
Margarita. D.G.B. Piper examined the book in a 1971 article for the Forum
for Modern Language Studies, giving a thorough explanation of the ways
that death and murder wind through the story, tying it together,
illuminating the differences between "the here-and-now and the
ever-after." In 1972 Pierre S. Hart interpreted the book in Modern Fiction
Studies as a commentary on the creative process: "Placed in the context of
the obvious satire on life in the early Soviet state," he wrote, "it gains
added significance as a definition of the artist's situation in that
system." While other writers saw the book as centering around the moral
dilemma of Pilate or the enduring love of the Master and Margarita, Hart
placed all of the book's events in relation to Soviet Russia's treatment
of artists. Edythe C. Haber, in The Russia Review, had yet another
perspective on it in 1975, comparing the devil of Goethe's Faust with the
devil as he is portrayed by Bulgakov.
That same year, Vladimir Lakshin, writing for Twentieth-Century Russian
Literary Criticism, expressed awe for Bulgakov's ability to render scenes
with vivid details, explaining that this skill on the author's part was
the thing that made it possible for the book to combine so many
contrasting elements. "The fact that the author freely blends the
unblendable--history and feulleton, lyricism and myth, everyday life and
fantasy--makes it difficult to define his book's genre," Lakshin wrote,
going on to explain that, somehow, it all works together. In the years
since the Soviet Union was dismantled, the potency of The Master and
Margarita's glimpse into life in a totalitarian state has diminished
somewhat, but the book's mythic overtones are as strong as ever, making it
a piece of literature that is every bit as important, if not more, than it
was when it was new.
10. CHARACTER ANALYSIS
2. Ivan Nikolayich Ponyryov
3. Other Characters
The Master is an author who has written a book about Pontius Pilate. "I no
longer have a name," he tells Ivan when they meet at the mental hospital,
where they both are incarcerated. While there, the Master explains his
past to the poet. He once was an historian (which is the same profession
that Ivan settles into at the end of the book), but when he won a large
sum in the lottery, he quit his job to work on his book. One day he met
Margarita, with whom he fell hopelessly in love. When she took the novel
around to publishers, it came back rejected, and then, even though it was
unpublished, the reviewers attacked it in the newspapers. In a fit of
insanity, imagining that an octopus was trying to drown him with its ink,
the Master burned his book. He gave what was left of his savings to
Margarita for safe keeping, but he was soon arrested and put in the
asylum, and he never saw her again.
In the mental hospital, the Master has a stolen set of keys that allows
him to escape, but he has nowhere to go. Margarita's reward for helping
with the devil's ball is her reunion with the Master. Woland arranges for
them to return to the Master's old apartment, for his bank account to be
restored, for him to receive identification papers and, miraculously, for
the burned novel to return to its original condition. In the end, at the
request of Jesus, Woland takes the Master with him when he leaves the
world: Jesus cannot take him because "He has not earned light, he has
earned peace." Margarita joins him, of course, and they are never
Ivan Nikolayich Ponyryov
Ivan Nikolayich Ponyryov is a young, twenty-three-year-old poet, who
writes under the pen name Bezdomny, which means "homeless" in Russian.
This character is present in the first chapter of the novel and the last,
as well as appearing intermittently throughout the story. When the novel
begins, Ivan is meeting with Berlioz, a magazine editor, at Patriarch's
Ponds. They are discussing the historical accuracy of Jesus when Woland,
who is the devil, interrupts their conversation and tells them the story
of the crucifixion as he witnessed it. He goes on to foretell the bizarre
circumstances of Berlioz's death. When Berlioz dies in this exact same way
a few minutes later, Ivan chases Woland and his accomplices across town,
bursting through apartments and diving into the river. When he ends up at
the headquarters of the writers' organization in his underwear, Ivan is
arrested and sent to the mental ward. At the asylum, the Master is in a
neighboring room; he is able to visit Ivan at night because he has stolen
a set of keys that open the doors on their floor of the hospital. The
Master explains that Ivan actually did encounter the devil, and he goes on
to recount his own life story to the poet. Before he is released from the
clinic, Ivan decides to stop writing poetry. By the end of the story,
years after the events that make up the bulk of the book, Ivan has become
an historian, but continues to be plagued by strange visions every time
the moon is full.
Azazello is the harshest and most sinister member of Woland's band, the
one who will physically attack an opponent rather than simply play tricks.
He is a short, broad-shouldered disfigured man with a bowler hat and red
hair. His face is described as being "like a crash" and a fang protrudes
from his mouth. It is Azazello who is sent to recruit Margarita to host
the devil's ball, although he is not comfortable with this responsibility:
he is awkward around women and thinks that one of the other servants who
has more charm should have been sent to talk to her. He gives Margarita
the cream that she rubs onto her body to become a witch. His true
character, revealed in the parting scene, is that of "the demon of the
Behemoth, one of the novel's most memorable figures, is a huge black cat
who walks on his hind legs and has many humanlike qualities: he pays for
his trolley fare, drinks brandy from glasses, fires guns, and more. At the
black magic show at the Variety Theater, it is Behemoth who twists the
head off of the master of ceremonies. When the apartment at 302B Sadovaya
Street is raided by police, Behemoth takes a gun and stages a shootout
with them; although it is later determined that, even after the firing of
hundreds of bullets, nobody on either side was injured, Behemoth burns the
apartment with kerosene, and then does the same to Griboyedov House, the
headquarters of MASSOLIT. In the end he is revealed to not really be a cat
at all, but "a slim youth, a page demon, the greatest jester there had
Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz
Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz is the editor of one of Moscow's most
fashionable literary magazines and a member of the management committee of
MASSOLIT, the most prominent literary association in Moscow. The novel
opens with Berlioz in the park discussing the historical evidence of Jesus
Christ with Ivan. Woland interrupts with his own story about Pontius
Pilate, and minutes later he prophesies that Berlioz will not make it to
the meeting to which he is going; instead, he will have his head cut off
by a woman. Leaving the park, Berlioz slips and falls under a trolley car,
driven by a woman, and the wheels cut his head off. Later, during the
devil's ball, his head is brought in on a platter, still alive and aware.
See Ivan Nikolayich Ponyryov.
Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoi
Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoi, whose surname means "barefooted," is the chairman
of the tenants' association of 302B Sadovaya Street, the building where
Berlioz and Likhodeyev shared an apartment. After signing a one-week lease
with Woland, Bosoi accepts a bribe, and takes it home and hides it in an
air duct in his apartment. Woland calls the police to report the bribery,
and Bosoi is arrested.
In the version of the crucifixion told by Woland and the Master in this
book, Jesus has a different name; he is known as Yeshua Ha-Notsri. Yeshua
is presented as a simple man, not braver nor more intelligent than most,
but more moral. Like the Jesus of Biblical tradition, he fascinates Pilate
with the meek humanity of his ideas, but unlike the Jesus of the Bible he
does not display a sense of security about the overall rightness of his
death. The most striking aspect of Yeshua's conversation is that he
believes in the goodness of all humans, even those who are cruelly
persecuting him: "There are no evil people on earth," he tells Pilate.
Nikolai Ivanovich is a neighbor of Margarita's who also rubs the special
cream on himself that had turned Margarita into a witch. Instead of taking
on witchlike qualities, he is turned into a hog.
See Yeshua Ha-Notsri.
See Ivan Nikolayich Ponyryov.
Korovyov is one of Woland's associates, who identifies himself as Woland's
interpreter. He first appears at Patriarch's Ponds, near the place where
Berlioz dies. He is described as a lanky man wearing pincenez glasses, a
jockey cap, and a plaid suit. It is Korovyov who gives a bribe to Bosoi,
and then calls the authorities to report him. As Woland and his entourage
prepare to leave Moscow, it is revealed that Korovyov is not the buffoon
he has presented himself as, but is a knight who once made "an ill-timed
joke" and has been sentenced to serve Woland in this form because of it.
Stepan Bogdanovich Likhodeyev
The manager of the Variety Theater, Stepan Bogdanovich Likhodeyev, wakes
up one morning after a night of drinking and finds that he has signed
Woland to a week-long engagement at the theater.
Margarita Nikolayevna is the mistress of the writer known as the Master.
In the past, when he was distraught about the novel, she comforted and
nursed him. He gave all of his money to her for safekeeping, but then was
arrested and taken away to the asylum. At a certain point, Margarita is
asked to be the hostess of the devil's ball. Once she has a taste of
witchcraft--invisibility and the ability to fly--she is glad to perform
this duty. In return for her help, Woland offers to grant Margarita a
wish. She wishes to be reunited with her beloved Master.
Unlike the traditional stories of Jesus in the New Testament of the Bible,
Yeshua has only one disciple in this story. Levi Matvei follows the
philosophical vagabond Yeshua Ha-Notsri around, writing down what he says,
usually without much accuracy. "This man follows me everywhere with
nothing but his goatskin parchment and writes incessantly," Yeshua
explains to Pilate. "But once I caught a glimpse of that parchment and I
was horrified. I had not said a word of what was written there. I begged
him, 'Please burn this parchment of yours!' But he tore it out of my hands
and ran away." Levi is the one who later brings the message to Woland that
Yeshua would like to give the Master "peace."
Natasha is Margarita's maid who witnesses Margarita's transformation into
a witch after she rubs special cream over her body. Natasha then rubs the
cream on herself and turns into a witch as well.
Pontius Pilate is presented as a tormented figure in this novel. He is in
Jerusalem during the Passover holiday and is forced to pass a death
sentence on a man who he thinks is a tramp and a fool, but not dangerous.
After the crucifixion, Pilate assigns soldiers to guard the man who
betrayed Jesus, fearing religious followers might try to take revenge on
him. However, in this novel, there is no evidence that Yeshua actually has
followers. Later, Pilate reveals that he himself had the traitor murdered.
Throughout the story there is evidence that Pilate has become fascinated
with Jesus from his brief encounter with him, and at the end of the book,
Pilate is united with Yeshua.
Grigory Danilovich Rimsky
The treasurer of the theater, Grigory Danilovich Rimsky, is visited by the
ghost of Varenukha the night of Woland's performance, but manages to
escape to the train station.
Woland is frequently referred to in the book as a foreigner. He is
mischievous and cunning, but also noble and generous. The contradictions
in his personality show in his looks: "his left eye was completely mad,
his right eye black, expressionless and dead." He claims to have been
present when Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus and he can foretell the
future, but people rationalize his supernatural powers as illusions or
else they, like Ivan and the Master, end up in the psychiatric ward.
Woland and his associates wreak havoc in Moscow. They put on a show of
black magic at the Variety Theater, at which gorgeous new clothes are
given to all of the ladies and money falls from the ceiling: soon after,
the women are found to be walking the streets in their underwear and the
money that looked authentic proves to be meaningless paper. At the devil's
ball, Woland drops his disguise as a visiting professor and reveals his
true identity as the devil. On the day after the ball he and his
associates ride off to the netherworld on thundering black stallions.
11. ESSAYS AND CRITICISM
1. The Nature and Politics of Writing
2. The Master and Margarita
3. Rehabilitated Experimentalist
The Nature and Politics of Writing
Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is a novel about novels--an
argument for the ability of literature to transcend both time and
oppression, and for the heroic nature of the writer's struggle to create
that literature. The story's hero, the Master, is an iconographic
representation of such writers. Despite rejection, mockery and
self-censorship, he creates a fictional world so powerful that it has the
ability to invade and restructure the reality of those that surround him.
Indeed, it has a life beyond authorial control. Despite his attempts to
burn it, the story of Pontius Pilate refuses to die. As Woland remarks,
"Manuscripts don't burn." This transcendence of message over physical
form--the eternal power of narrative over the mundane reality of flammable
paper--is in itself an idea that "escapes" from Bulgakov's novel, becoming
a commentary on his contemporary Soviet society and the role of authors
like Bulgakov within it.
Readers first meet the Master in Dr. Stravinsky's mental hospital, as he
says when asked about his identity, "I am a master
I no longer have a
name. I have renounced it, as I have renounced life itself." His identity
subsumed into his role as Great Author, the Master's symbolic status is
sign-posted from his first appearance. Both the details of his creative
process as well as the story he has created will be presented throughout
Bulgakov's novel as powerful, almost occult forces, that are greater than
material reality, just as the infernal visitors are greater than the
rationalist society upon which they wreak havoc. The multiple narrative
strands of the novel--the Master and Margarita's story of creation, the
story-within-a-story of the master's novel, the dry world of
state-controlled literature exemplified by MASSOLIT (a literary club in
Moscow), and the ruleless world of the satanic gang--perform both
individually and in their entirety as a commentary on the nature and power
As the hero explains to his fellow inmate, it was the creation of his
novel that caused his transcendence to the status of Master--the act of
writing forcing a kind of personal transformation upon him. He and his
lover, Margarita, were completely consumed in one other and in his
work-in-progress--the two consummations fed into and from one another. The
novel enabled their romance at the same time as their romance enabled the
novel--it is Margarita who oversees its creation and bestows the name
"Master" upon its author, and it is she who keeps faith in it when the
publishing world rejects it. When the Master burns his manuscript,
throwing it in the wood stove, he is attempting to reverse the alchemical
process of creation. The unclean text must be transformed into ashes in
the "purifying" flames, just as he was transformed into An Author by the
purifying act of creating it.
In his story we can see a metaphorized version of the struggles of all
authors, the master's story presenting a sort of extended meditation on
the nature of being an author. The completion of the novel is the
culmination of everything he was working toward and the expression of his
personality, an "alternative self" in which his dreams reside. His
rejection of writing thus becomes a rejection of his own mind, an act that
is literalized by his self-committal to the asylum: he has literally "lost
his mind." When Woland returns the manuscript to him, the Master rejects
it, saying, "I hate that novel." Woland's reply encapsulates the crippling
effects of such self-censorship. As he asks, "How will you be able to
write now? Where are your dreams, your inspiration?" The Master replies,
"I have no more dreams and my inspiration is dead
.. I'm finished." Of
course, by the end of the novel, the Master has re-embraced his story,
completing the final line as he flies off to his eternal cottage with
Margarita. This pattern of creative struggle, rejection, self-doubt and
transcendence represents a simultaneous exploration and rejection of
glorification through pain. It is creation, not rejection, that turns a
simple author into a Master. In just the same way, the Master's version of
the crucifixion stresses joy over suffering. It is forgiveness that allows
Pontius Pilate to ascend to Heaven, not a proscribed period of torment;
just as Margarita's compassion frees Frieda the infanticide from the
eternal cycle of suffering. Both the literal Purgatory of Catholic
theology and the metaphoric purgatory of authorial trial are rejected in
favor of Grace and acceptance.
This rejection of suffering-as-purity acts as a nuanced critique of
literary life in Soviet culture. The writers of "acceptable"
literature--the members of MASSOLIT--are forgettable idiots not worthy of
serious critique. The authorial voice, represented by the all-powerful
satanic gang, dismisses them with a capricious amusement exemplified by
the fate of Berlioz, who simply has his head cut off to shut him up.
Similarly, the proprietors of the Variety Theater are subjected to various
Byzantine tortures befitting their production of terrible art. In this
way, The Master and Margarita presents not so much an indictment of
Socialist Realism as a disgusted mockery of it. Instead, the more serious
and sensitive exploration is reserved for "real" authors, those who are
outside state approval and whose work is marginalized and banned. Again,
the Master is used to exemplify such authors. Subjected first to dismissal
and then to active persecution, he gradually embraces the logic of
MASSOLIT and burns his own book. As Woland says, "They have almost broken
him," and they have done so by causing him to break himself. When this is
taken into account, the rejection of suffering as a creative aesthetic
must be read as a powerful call to an artistic community under siege
rather than to the forces besieging it. The story of the Master's
suffering acts as a parable which warns of the dangers inherent in
To Bulgakov and his contemporaries, heroizing struggle was an attractive
option, very difficult to resist. Soviet writers of the Stalinist period
were subjected to extreme levels of censorship, and faced with a choice
between living in fear, writing what they were told to write, or never
attempting to get published. In The Master and Margarita, Bulgakov creates
an artistic world that acknowledges these conditions, and negotiates a
different intellectual and philosophical approach to them. The danger of
accepting that struggle purifies is presented by the fate of the Master.
Struggling does not purify him--rather it represents an acceptance of the
forces ranged against him; a voluntary erasure of self that serves the
purposes of the state. When he embraces the power of his narrative, he
embraces a form of resistance, which says that joy, creation and the
telling of stories must be an end in themselves, since--like the Master's
novel--they may well be truly finished only after the death of the author.
As Bulgakov bitterly said of his own work:
I have heard again and again suspiciously unctuous voices assuring me, 'No
matter, after your death everything will be published.'
The most difficult task facing The Master, Bulgakov, and Soviet writers in
general is to accept that fact while refusing to consign themselves to
The power of narrative to create belief, and the concurrent power of
belief to restructure reality, is a major thematic aspect of the novel.
This works in a multilayered way, with many versions of narrative playing
against each other and providing commentaries on one another. In the most
obvious, structural instance, the novel-within-a-novel motif allows
Bulgakov to comment on the role of literature in the life of the society
and author that produces it. A common genre in Russian literary history,
the book within a book appears in such works as Pushkin's Eugene Onegin
and Zamiatin's We. Bulgakov's innovation is the relationship between the
two books. Though the story of Pontius Pilate is indeed a story within a
story, and though it is indeed the Master's novel, discrete boundaries
between the two texts are constantly blurred until it is no longer clear
which story is taking place within which. Only once is an excerpt from the
Master's novel presented as an excerpt--when Margarita sits down to read
the charred fragment. The rest of the time, Pilate's story comes from the
minds and mouths of others--from Woland at Patriarch's Ponds and the
dreams of Homeless at the asylum. It becomes just as real as the story
that seems to contain it, a parallel reality that reaches into
contemporary Moscow and reshapes it according to its needs. Everything in
the Moscow reality revolves around the Yershalayim reality that the
Master's book set in motion, culminating in a scene in which it becomes
apparent that the Master now exists, like Bulgakov's frame narrative, to
resolve the painful reality of Pontius Pilate's story. What started as an
author's attempt to achieve--to transform his life by the creation of
literature--has been entirely reversed. The author exists in the service
of literature, and not the other way round.
The role of literature within the culture that produces it is similarly
configured: it literally has the power to change the past, present, and
future. The interaction of the Yershalaim and the Moscow realities
complicates the relationship of cause and effect through the manipulation
of chronology, and in doing so suggests that art transcends time. Chapter
twenty-six of The Master and Margarita marks the end of the Master's story
of Pilate, but in chapter thirty-two Pilate himself reappears, this time
within the Moscow narrative. Woland tells the Master:
We have read your novel, and we can only say that unfortunately it is not
finished. I would like to show you your hero. He has been sitting here for
nearly two thousand years
He is saying that there is no peace for him
He claims he had more to say to [Ha-Notsri] on that distant fourteenth day
The meeting of the master and his hero Pilate in the 'eternal now' of the
afterlife completes the link between past and present. The two concurrent
story lines finally intersect physically, after they have touched upon
each other throughout the novel. The Master frees Pilate from his eternal
torment, and is himself granted peace by one of his own creations--his
version of Levi Matvei who arrives as Yeshua's messenger to Woland.
Narrative, this would seem to suggest, is so powerful that it is not only
incapable of destruction, but also the very means by which reality is
constructed. In this way, Pilate is paradoxically "created," millennia
before his creator, the Master, was even born.
When the Master wrote about Pilate, he effectively changed the past, and
his characters gained the ability to walk into his present and change his
life and the life of his society. In an extended chronological and
narrative game, Bulgakov suggests that it is what we read that makes us
believe, and what we believe that makes us who we are. Woland and his
followers wreak havoc on Moscow by dropping millions of rubles into the
audience of the Variety Theater, rubles that turn into foreign bills, soda
bottles, and insects, infesting the economy with a supply of worthless
money. As Bulgakov makes clear, money--no less than fiction and
religion--is dependent on faith, on the willingness to believe that
objects of material culture are greater than the sum of their parts. When
that belief is lost, reality becomes a set of meaningless, valueless
artifacts of no use to anyone. In the final analysis, The Master and
Margarita represents an absolute rejection of "reality" as it is
understood by Soviet materialist culture. Instead, the novel says, fiction
is reality and reality is fiction.
Everything is dependent on stories.
Source: Tabitha McIntosh-Byrd, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale,
McIntosh-Byrd is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania.
The Master and Margarita
The Master and Margarita was essentially completed in 1940 but its origin
goes back to 1928, when Bulgakov wrote a satirical tale about the devil
visiting Moscow. Like his literary hero, Gogol (as well as the Master in
his own novel), Bulgakov destroyed this manuscript in 1930 but returned to
the idea in 1934, adding his heroine, Margarita, based on the figure of
his third wife, Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaia. The novel went through a
number of different versions until, aware that he had only a short time to
live, he put other works aside in order to complete it, dictating the
final changes on his deathbed after he had become blind. It remained
unpublished until 1965-66, when it appeared in a censored version in the
literary journal Moskva, immediately creating a sensation. It has since
been published in its entirety, although the restored passages, while
numerous, add comparatively little to the overall impact of the novel. It
has been translated into many other languages. (In English, the Glenny
translation is the more complete, while the Ginsburg translation is taken
from the original Moskva version.)
The novel's form is unusual, with the hero, the Master, appearing only
towards the end of the first part, and Margarita not until Part Two. It
combines three different if carefully related stories: the arrival of the
devil (Woland) and his companions in contemporary Moscow, where they
create havoc; Margarita's attempt, with Woland's assistance, to be
reunited with her love after his imprisonment and confinement in a
psychiatric hospital; and an imaginative account of the passion of Christ
(given the Hebrew name of Yeshua Ha-Nozri) from his interrogation by
Pontius Pilate to his crucifixion. Differing considerably from the
gospels, the latter consists of four chapters which may be regarded as a
novel within a novel: written by the Master, related by Woland, and
dreamed of by a young poet (Ivan Bezdomnyi, or 'Homeless') on the basis of
'true' events. Correspondingly, the action takes place on three different
levels, each with a distinct narrative voice: that of Ancient Jerusalem,
of Moscow of the 1930s (during the same four days in Holy Week), and of
the 'fantastic' realm beyond time. The book is usually considered to be
closest in genre to Menippean satire.
Despite its complexity, the novel is highly entertaining, very funny in
places, and with the mystery appeal of a detective story. In the former
Soviet Union, as well as in the countries of Eastern Europe, it was
appreciated first of all for its satire on the absurdities of everyday
life: involving Communist ideology, the bureaucracy, the police, consumer
goods, the housing crisis, various forms of illegal activities and, above
all, the literary and artistic community. At the same time it is obviously
a very serious work, by the end of which one feels a need for more
detailed interpretation: what, in short, is it all about? The problem is
compounded by the fact that it is full of pure fantasy and traditional
symbols (features associated with devil-lore, for example), so that the
reader is uncertain what is important to elucidate the meaning. Leitmotifs
(such as sun and moon, light and darkness, and many others) connect the
three levels, implying the ultimate unity of all existence.
Soviet critics tended to dwell initially on the relatively innocuous theme
of justice: enforced by Woland during his sojourn in Moscow, while
Margarita tempers this with mercy in her plea to release a sinner from
torment. Human greed, cowardice, and the redemptive power of love are
other readily distinguishable themes. More fundamental ones are summed up
in three key statements: 'Jesus existed' (the importance of a spiritual
understanding of life, as opposed to practical considerations in a
materialistic world that denied Christ's very existence); 'Manuscripts
don't burn' (a belief in the enduring nature of art); and 'Everything will
turn out right. That's what the world is built on': an extraordinary
metaphysical optimism for a writer whose life was characterized by
recurring disappointment. There is indeed a strong element of
wish-fulfilment in the book, where characters are punished or rewarded
according to what they are seen to have deserved.
Thus the novel's heroes, the Master and Margarita, are ultimately rescued,
through the agency of Woland, in the world beyond time. They are, however,
granted 'peace' rather than 'light', from which they are specifically
excluded: a puzzle to many critics. Here, on a deeper philosophical level,
there is an undoubted influence of gnosticism with its contrasting
polarities of good and evil--which, as I have argued elsewhere, are
reconciled in eternity, where 'peace' represents a higher state than the
corresponding polarities of light and darkness. Another influence is the
Faust story, with Margarita (a far more dynamic figure than either the
Master or Goethe's Gretchen) partly taking over Faust's traditional role,
in that she is the one to make the pact with Woland, rejoicing in her role
as witch. A major scene is 'Satan's Great Ball', a fictional
representation of the Walpurgisnacht or Black Mass.
Bulgakov, however, reinterprets his sources-- Faust, traditional
demonology, the Bible, and many others--in his own way, creating an
original and entertaining story which is not exhausted by interpretation.
His devil is helpful to those who deserve it and is shown as necessary to
God's purposes, to which he is not opposed. Bulgakov's Christ figure, a
lonely 'philosopher', has only one disciple (Matthu Levi) although
eventually Pontius Pilate, 'released' by Margarita from his torments after
2,000 years, is allowed to follow him as well.
Woland too has his disciples: Azazello, Koroviev, and a huge, comical
tomcat called Behemoth. So has the Master, with Ivan Bezdomnyi. Like
Faust, the Master is the creative artist, 'rivalling' God with the devil's
help; like Yeshua he is profoundly aware of the spiritual plane, but is
afraid, cowed by life's circumstances.
Endlessly fascinating, the novel indeed deserves to be considered one of
the major works of 20th-century world literature.
Source: A. Colin Wright, "The Master and Margarita," in Reference Guide to
World Literature, second edition, edited by Lesley Henderson, St. James
Bulgakov's brilliant and moving extravaganza [The Master and Margarita]
may well be one of the major novels of the Russian 20th century
Western reader, the novelty of Bulgakov's genre can only be relative after
Joyce and Beckett, Nabokov, Burroughs and Mailer; yet the novelty of his
achievement is absolute--comparable perhaps most readily to that of
Fellini's recent work in the cinema
[This] is a city novel, the enormous cast of characters (largely literary
and theatrical types) being united by consternation at the invasion of
Moscow by the devil--who poses as a professor of black magic named
Woland--and his three assistants, one of whom is a giant talking cat, a
tireless prankster and expert pistol shot
On its satirical level, the book treats the traditional Russian theme of
vulgarity by laughing at it until the laughter itself becomes fatiguing,
ambivalent and grotesque. But there is more: thematically, the novel is
put together like a set of Chinese boxes. A third of the way through, in a
mental hospital, the hack poet Ivan Bezdomny meets the Master, whose
mysterious presence adds a new dimension to the narrative--the dimension
in which art, love and religion have their being. Ivan has been taken,
protesting, to the hospital; the Master, significantly, has voluntarily
committed himself, rejecting the world. He is a middleaged historian
turned novelist who, after winning 100,000 rubles in the state lottery,
devotes himself, an egoless Zhivago, to the twin miracles of love and art.
Aided by the beautiful Margarita, whom he has met by chance in the street,
he writes a novel about Pontius Pilate--which she declares to be her
life--only to become the object of vicious critical attack in the press
and, in a fit of depression, burns the precious manuscript
What, then, becomes of the manuscript? The answer is the key to Bulgakov's
work. Echoes of Gogol, Goethe, Dostoevsky, Hoffmann and a dozen others are
not hard to find, but they are internal allusions; to account for the form
of the book--and its formal significance within Soviet literature-- one
must mention Pirandello, and the Gide of The Counterfeiters. Bulgakov's
characters, in the common Russian phrase, are out of different operas. The
story of the disruption of Moscow by Woland and company is opéra bouffe;
the story of the Master and Margarita is lyrical opera. But there is a
third and epical opera, richly staged and in a style that contrasts
sharply with the styles of the other two. The setting is Jerusalem, the
main subject Pontius Pilate, the main action the crucifixion of Christ.
This narrative is threaded through the whole of the book, in a series of
By merging [the question of what happened to the Master's novel] with
Woland's account and Ivan's dream, Bulgakov seems to be suggesting that
truth subsists, timeless and intact, available to men with sufficient
intuition and freedom from conventional perception. The artist's
uniqueness in particular lies in his ability to accept miracle--and this
ability leads him, paradoxically, to a truth devoid of miracle, a purely
human truth. I am simplifying what I take to be implicit, though complex
and unclear, in Bulgakov's book, but there is a clue, easily overlooked,
that would seem to support this interpretation. When the Master first
appears to tell Ivan his story, Margarita is waiting impatiently for the
promised final words about the fifth Procurator of Judea, reading out in a
loud singsong random sentences that pleased her and saying that the novel
was her life. Now, Bulgakov's own novel ends precisely with the phrase
about the cruel Procurator of Judea, fifth in that office, the knight
Pontius Pilate. Is the novel we read then, to be identified with the
The answer is clearly (but not simply) yes. The perspectives turn out to
be reversible. Bulgakov's novel had appeared to include a piece at least
of the Master's; now at the end it appears that the Master's novel has
enlarged to include Bulgakov's. The baffling correspondences, in any
event, make the case for mystery, and the heart of mystery is
transfiguration--quod erat demonstrandum. Margarita's faith in the
Master's art is thus justified in ways which she could not have
anticipated--and becomes a symbol of Bulgakov's similar faith in his own
work. The Master's novel is Margarita's life in one sense as Bulgakov's
novel is in another
[The Master and Margarita] is a plea for spiritual life without dogmatic
theology, for individual integrity based on an awareness of the
irreducible mystery of human life. It bespeaks sympathy for the inevitably
lonely and misunderstood artist; it opposes to Philistinism not good
citizenship but renunciation.
Source: Donald Fanger, "Rehabilitated Experimentalist," in Nation, January
22, 1968, pp. 117-18.
12. SUGGESTED ESSAY TOPICS
1. Describe the Professor's conversation with Berlioz and Ivan. In what
ways does he dispute the notion that God does not exist? How do his
prophecy and specialty in black magic influence the impact of his claim
that Jesus did exist?
2. What oddities does Berlioz encounter by the Patriarch's Ponds, aside
from the Professor's appearance? How do these oddities provide a backdrop
for his and Ivan's encounter with the Professor?
1. Describe the ways in which this chapter illustrates Pilate's weariness.
How does his weariness contrast with Yeshua's character?
2. How does the story of Pilate and Yeshua told here differ and elaborate
on the Gospel accounts of the relationship of Pilate and Jesus?
1. How might Berlioz's death serve as a seventh proof of God's existence?
2. Discuss Ivan's chase after the professor, the choirmaster, and the cat.
How does the chase further the sense of surrealness and artifice created
by earlier chapters?
1. Compare Ivan's belief that unclean powers have caused Berlioz's demise
with the disbelieving reaction of the doctor and the people at Griboedov's
to his testimony.
2. Analyze the character of Riukhin. Why does he curse the statue along
the boulevard? What is the meaning of his confession that his poems are
lies and his recognition that his life is miserable?
1. Analyze the history and current events at apartment 50. What could
explain the peculiar events at the apartment?
2. Describe Ivan's mental and emotional condition in chapter eight. Why
does no one believe Ivan's stories about Pilate and the death of Berlioz?
1. Discuss Bosoy's crime of speculating in foreign currency. What does his
acceptance of the bribe and arrest indicate about corruption in Communist
2. Analyze the attack on Varenukha. In light of earlier events, what does
it reveal about Woland and his retinue? Why might Varenukha be attacked?
1. What does the title of chapter 11 mean? How might Ivan be said to have
split in two?
2. How does Woland's magic show bring out the dark, material desires of
Moscow's citizens and bring them to fruition? What are Woland's reasons
for fulfilling these desires?
1. How does Ivan and the master's shared knowledge of the Pilate story
change the credibility and objectivity of that story? Has the story become
more convincing as a result?
2. What are the possible reasons for Ivan's refusal to believe he met
Satan at the Patriarch's Ponds? Given the events in the novel thus far, is
Ivan's disbelief well-founded?
1. Discuss the importance of the scene at Rimsky's desk. What accounts for
the change in Varenukha? How does the cock's crowing recall the Gospel
story of a cock crowing three times?
2. How does Bosoy's dream, with its emphasis on exposing people who hide
illegal currency, fit in with the novel's theme of artifice and secrecy?
Similarly, how do the theatrics of his dream compare with the theatrics of
Woland's magic show?
1. Compare the surreal feeling of Bosoy's dream and the events of chapter
17 to Ivan's dream, with its realistic depiction of the execution at Bald
Mountain. How does this comparison highlight the unreality of Communist
Moscow and argue for the truth of earlier claims that God and the Devil
2. Discuss Matthew Levi's relationship to Yeshua and his actions at the
execution, including his rage at God. What has inspired Matthew Levi to
come to the execution and cut down the three bodies?
1. Compare the prophecy that Andrei Fokich Sokov will die of liver cancer,
and his response to the prophecy, with the prophecy of Berlioz's death and
2. Discuss the difficulty Poplavsky has in seeking to occupy Berlioz's
apartment. Why do Azazello and the cat treat him so roughly, and how does
their treatment of him contrast with Koroviev's treatment of him?
1. Describe Margarita's character as it is revealed by her response to
Azazello. Why is she so willing to confront him?
2. Margarita's dream is one of a series of dreams thus far in the novel.
Compare her dream to the earlier ones. Why does she respond so
optimistically to her dream?
1. Analyze the globe Woland shows Margarita. What is the significance of
the globe and the events shown on it?
2. How does Margarita's flight reprise the novel's theme of the mutability
of space and time?
1. Describe Margarita's performance as the hostess of Satan's ball. What
enables her to withstand the pressures involved with serving as hostess?
2. Discuss the purpose of Satan's ball. Why do the condemned souls emerge
once each year? Describe how the décor and atmosphere of the ball
contrasts with its guests.
1.Woland grants the master and Margarita several wishes. This generosity
conflicts with his earlier cruelties. What has inspired his generosity,
and what do the couple do with their wishes?
2. Examine the conversation between Margarita, Woland, and his retinue
before the master appears. What does it reveal about their personalities?
1. The appearance of the huge dark cloud at the start of the chapter, and
the sun's emergence as Aphranius goes to Pilate, exemplifies the role
weather has played throughout the novel in setting scenes, highlighting
plot movement. Examine this role, and the symbolic presence of weather in
the novel thus far.
2. Judas and his love of money is one example of the relationship between
money, luxury, and morality explored by the novel. Compare Judas' passion
for money and Pilate's desire for material comforts with Yeshua's
rejection of a drink before he dies.
1. Niza's betrayal of Judas to Aphranius is part of a web of secrecy and
deceit involving Yeshua's execution. How does this web contrast with the
character of Yeshua himself?
2. Describe Pilate's moonlight dream. What does it mean? What significance
lies in it beginning at midnight?
1. How does the inability of the Moscow police to catch Woland and his
retinue contrast with the Soviet state's extensive monitoring and control
of its citizens, as portrayed in this novel?
2. Margarita is one of several characters who have access to the master's
novel about Pilate. What is the impact of his novel being revealed through
several different characters?
1. Discuss the relationship between the master and Margarita. What
characteristics do they have in common? Why is Margarita so devoted to the
2. Matthew Levi does not dispute Woland's assertion that evil is essential
to life on earth. However, he does seek peace for the master and
Margarita. What have they done to deserve peace, and why don't they
deserve the light?
1. Ivan's fate is inconclusive, in contrast to the decisive fate of most
of the novel's characters. What is the significance of his inconclusive
fate, and of his actions during the annual festal spring full moon?
2. Discuss the description of the aftermath of Woland's visit to Moscow.
How does the persecution of so many alleged perpetrators contrast with the
inability to stop Woland and his retinue from wreaking havoc on Moscow?
13. SAMPLE ESSAY OUTLINES
The Master and Margarita is set in two cities: Moscow, where Woland, the
master, and Margarita are at the center of the plot, and Yershalaim, where
the drama of Yeshua and Pilate drives the plot forward. Analyze the
juxtaposition of these two plot settings and examine the meaning of this
I. Thesis Statement: The Master and Margarita establishes the plot setting
in biblical Yershalaim as real and the plot setting in communist Moscow as
false. In doing this, it argues that the existence of God and the devil,
called absurd by Communist leaders and party members, is real. In
contrast, by depicting an array of fantastic, surreal events happening in
Moscow, the novel argues that communist Moscow is absurd and fundamentally
II. Realism and credibility of Yershalaim narrative.
A. Before beginning to tell Pilate story, Woland declares "Jesus did
B. Plain descriptions of Herod's palace, Pilate, Yeshua, and Kaifa.
C. Yeshua's simple, non-rhetorical language.
D. Crude physicality of the execution scene.
E. Pilate's weary, subdued nature, and hunger for sensual pleasure.
F. Judas's desire for money and Niza leading him to death.
G. Aphranius's grim, violent character.
III. Absurdity and deceptiveness in Moscow narrative.
A. Surrealism of initial chapter and Berlioz's death.
B. Incredible speed of Ivan's chase and Ivan's inability to catch Woland.
C. Styopa's removal from apartment 50 to the jetty at Yalta.
D. The refusal to believe Ivan's testimony about Berlioz's death.
E. Koroviev's bribe and the arrest of Bosoy.
F. Woland's bizarre magic show.
G. Bosoy's dream of the public exposure of currency hoarders.
H. The guests at Satan's ball, and apartment 50's conversion to ballroom.
I. Woland and retinue vanish when pursued by police air
J. Inability of secret police to catch Woland and retinue or uncover their
actions. Persecution of innocent parties in epilogue.
A. Suffering and realism of Yershalaim characters presents them as
B. Fantastic events and duplicity in Moscow make reader question reality
and legitimacy of Stalin regime.
C. The novel rejects the bizarreness and cruelty of Moscow narrative as
false and accepts the biblically inspired Yershalaim narrative as real
When Woland and his retinue descend on Moscow, they interact with many
different characters. These characters have various responses to their
contact with Woland and his retinue. Examine the master and Margarita's
response to Woland and its significance for the novel as a whole.
I. Thesis Statement:
The master and Margarita are the only two Moscow characters who are
willing and able to confront the supernatural realm Woland inhabits. In
their confrontation, they exhibit the courage all the other Moscow
characters lack. By virtue of their courage and devotion, they are the
heroes of the novel, and are rewarded by being granted peace at the
II. The master's response to Woland and the supernatural
A. Writes Pilate manuscript.
B. Talks with Ivan about the Pilate story and recognizes the professor is
C. Recognizes Woland's true identity immediately.
D. Proclaims himself afraid of nothing.
E. Anticipates encounter with Pilate and grants Pilate freedom.
III. Margarita's response to Woland and the supernatural.
A. Interprets dream as meaning she will reunite with the master.
B. Agrees to Azazello's invitation to visit Woland.
C. Welcomes being transformed into witch.
D. Enjoys her reception by the river after ending her flight.
E. Successfully carries out her duties as hostess of Satan's ball.
F. Grants Frieda her freedom and makes the master appear.
G. Suffers no psychic damage from visit to Woland.
H. Trusts that everything will turn out well.
IV. The master and Margarita's mutual confrontation with Woland and
A. Granted wish to return to their basement apartment.
B. Given peace by Yeshua as reward for Pilate manuscript.
C. Come to terms with their death and fly from Moscow with Woland.
D. At novel's end, embrace their eternal life in their eternal home.
A. Master and Margarita, both separately and jointly, prove capable of
courageously embracing, confronting, and accepting the supernatural.
B. Master and Margarita die as result of confrontation with Woland, but in
dying they achieve peace as their unique reward.
14. COMPARE AND CONTRAST
1968: Viewing the Vietnam War on television, Americans became more and
more suspicious of their government. Atrocities, such as the massacre of
hundreds of Vietnamese men, women, and children in the village of My Lai,
made Americans feel as distanced from their government as the citizens of
Moscow in The Master and Margarita.
Today: Americans are still suspicious of the government's honesty and
competence, so that any military initiative is met with distrust.
1968: The newly appointed secretary of the Communist Party of
Czechoslovakia, Alexander Dubcek, refused to attend conferences in Warsaw
and Moscow. In order to keep control of the satellite Communist countries,
the Soviet Union sent 200,000 troops into Czechoslovakia.
Today: Czechoslovakia no longer exists. After the breakup of the Soviet
Union, it divided into two republics: The Czech Republic, with a capital
city of Prague, and Slovakia, whose capital is Bratislava.
1968: Race riots swept many of the country's major metropolitan areas
after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead in Memphis. A total of 21,270
arrests were made across the country. Forty-six people died in the riots.
Today: Many social scientists consider the continued divisions between the
races to be America's greatest social failure.
15. TOPICS FOR FUTHER STUDY
Explain why you think that Woland's associate Behemoth is presented as a
cat, while Pilate's closest companion is his dog. List the characteristics
of these animals that make them fit the roles that Bulgakov has given them
Study the treatment of writers in the Soviet Union in the 1930s through
the 1960s. Report on the standards to which writers were held by the
government, and the punishments that were given to those who disobeyed.
Read Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which is openly acknowledged as
one of the inspirations for The Master and Margarita. Compare Goethe's
version of the devil with Bulgakov's Woland. Which do you think is more
dangerous? Which is written to be the more sympathetic figure? Why do you
think Bulgakov made the changes to the devil that he made?
Study the specific political role played by the Procurator of Judea. How
did this position come into existence? What would have been the extent of
his powers and responsibilities?
16. MEDIA ADAPTATIONS
The Master and Margarita was adapted for video in 1988. This version was
directed by Alexandra Petrovich and released by SBS.
The video Incident in Judea, directed by Paul Bryers and released by SBS
in 1992, is based on material from Bulgakov's TheMaster and Margarita.
A Polish version, Mistrz i Malgorzata (The Master and Margarita--with
English subtitles--of The Master and Margarita was released on four video
cassettes by Contal International in 1990. This version was directed and
written by Maciej Wojtyszko.
The Master and Margarita was adapted for audio cassette by IU Liubimov,
and released by Theater Works in 1991.
An audio compact disc called Master and Margarita: Eight Scenes from the
Ballet was released by Russian Discs in 1995.
17. WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
This book's use of fantasy elements to lampoon social behavior is
reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's ever-popular Alice books, Alice's
Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872).
Bulgakov refers to these books, in fact, in the beginning of chapter
eight, when Ivan finds a cylinder in the mental ward labeled "Drink,"
similar to the mysterious bottle labeled "Drink Me" that Alice finds at
the start of her adventure in Wonderland.
Many of Bulgakov's ideas, especially his conception of Woland, the devil,
are taken directly from German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's two-part
poem Faust (published in 1808 and 1832), which he wrote over a span of
Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses created a sensation when it was
released in 1988, causing an Iranian religious leader to offer a reward
for the "blaspheming" author's death. Rushdie himself acknowledged the
similarities between his book and The Master and Margarita, noting that
"the echoes are there, and not unconsciously." Like Bulgakov's novel, it
is the retelling of an ancient religious story within a contemporary
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is a Russian novelist of a generation after
Bulgakov's, who grew up within the repression of Lenin's reformed
government. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970 and was expelled
from Russia in 1974 for denouncing the official government system. Critics
consider some of his early fictional works about the Soviet government to
be his most powerful, including One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
(1962) and The First Circle (1968).
Critics have pointed out that the modern trend of "magical realism" in
fiction has much in common with The Master and Margarita. This style has
been most evident in Latin America since the 1960s, in the works of such
writers as Alejo Carpenter, Carlos Fuentes, and Mario Vargas Llosa. The
most preeminent novel in this genre is One Hundred Years of Solitude, by
Gabriel García Márquez, who won the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature.
18. BIBLIOGRAPHY AND FURTHER READING
Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita, translated by Diana Burgin and
Katherine Tiernan O'Connor, Vintage Books, 1995.
Donald Fanger, "Rehabilitation Experimentalist," in The Nation, January
22, 1968, pp. 117-18.
Edythe C. Haber, "The Mythic Structure of Bulgakov's 'The Master'," in The
Russia Review, October, 1975, pp. 382-409.
Pierre S. Hart, " The Master and Margarita as Creative Process," in Modern
Fiction Studies, Summer, 1973, pp. 169-78.
Vladimir Lakshin, "Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita," in
Twentieth-Century Russian Literary Criticism, Yale University Press, 1975,
D.G.B. Piper, "An Approach to Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita," in
Forum for Modern Language Studies, Volume VII, No. 2 April, 1971, pp.
134-37. Gleb Strave, Soviet Russian Literature, The University of Oklahoma
Gleb Strave, "The Re-Emergence of Mikhail Bulgakov," in The Russia Review,
July, 1968, pp. 338-43.
For Further Study
J.A.E. Curtis, Manuscripts Don't Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov, a Life in Letters
and Diaries, Overlook Press, 1992. A noted Bulgakov scholar presents the
history of Bulgakov's life in the author's own words, filling in gaps
where appropriate but for the most part presenting long-lost personal
Arnold McMillian, "The Devil of a Similarity: The Satanic Verses and
Master i Margarita," in Bulgakov: The Novelist-Playwright, edited by
Leslie Milne, Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995, pp. 232-41. Compares The
Satanic Verses to The Master and Margarita.
Nadine Natov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Twayne Publishers, 1985. Examines the life
of Mikhail Bulgakov.
Ellendea Proffer, Bulgakov, Ardis Press, 1984. A comprehensive study of
Bulgakov, his life, and his works available.
Joel C. Relihan, Ancient Mennipean Satire, John Hopkins University Press,
1993. Discusses the history of Mennipean satire.
Kalpana Sahni, A Mind in Ferment: Mikhail Bulgakov's Prose, Humanities
Press, Inc., 1986. Analyzes Bulgakov's writing, including The Master and
More information about the paleopsych