Study Guide

Master and Margarita

by Mikhail Bulgakov

Master and Margarita Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Master and Margarita presents three interlaced lines of action, which are integrated and are mutually enlightening: a visit by Satan to Moscow, a Faustian love story of a writer and his Margarita, and Pilate’s condemnation of Jesus to execution. The Moscow and Jerusalem episodes have parallels, and the love story connects the two.

In the first story, Satan, in the form of a foreign expert in theater (magic is his specialty), visits Moscow in the spring of 1920. Satan takes the German name of Woland. He and his minions—a black cat named Behemoth, a naked maid named Hella, a disreputable clown named Koroviev-Faggot, and an evil trickster called Azazello—play tricks on the Soviet literary and theatrical establishments and on the ordinary people of Moscow in order to reveal their victims’ anti-Soviet greed for material things. A magic show in a theater and a series of destructive tricks around town reveal and satirize real elements of Soviet life in the 1920’s and 1930’s: the hunger for consumer goods; gold-hoarding; sexual hanky-panky; the jockeying for special treatment; the suppression of literature; the humorlessness of the bureaucracy; and the pervasive informing on friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.

The satanic crew finds a writer’s girlfriend and persuades her to serve as the hostess for the annual Satan’s ball, which she agrees to do in order to earn the freedom of her lover, who is in a mental institution. Woland then demonstrates his links with the timeless supernatural world when he produces a copy of the Master’s burned manuscript. The Devil knows its contents and says that he has talked to Pilate himself. According to Woland, “Manuscripts don’t burn.”

The action of the Master’s novel constitutes the second plot of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel. Interpolated in the Moscow sequence, this novel-within-a-novel relates in fresh terms the New Testament account of the Passion in first century Jerusalem. Yeshua (Jesus) has been betrayed to the Jews by Judas. Pilate, while submitting to his role as Roman procurator and to the political pressure of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, nevertheless tries to keep Yeshua from incriminating himself. Yeshua, while not in the least eager to suffer or die, refuses to admit that any temporal power has jurisdiction over him. He tells Pilate that “all power is a form of violence exercised over people and...the time will come when there will...

(The entire section is 999 words.)

Master and Margarita Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

On a warm spring afternoon, two Russian writers meet in a Moscow park. One of them, Berlioz, is the editor of a leading literary journal; the other is a poet named Ivan Bezdomny, who has been reviled for writing a poem about Jesus that depicts him as if he had really existed. The two writers are discussing atheism, the official Soviet policy, when they are joined by a strange, foreign-looking person who asks them provocative questions and gives even more provocative answers to their questions. He even prophesies about their immediate future, telling them, for example, that Berlioz will die before the day is over. In the ensuing philosophical debate, he tells them the story of Pontius Pilate. By the end of the afternoon, Berlioz has been decapitated by a streetcar. Bezdomny ends up in a mental hospital because no one would believe his story about the strange visitor.

The visitor, who has the German-sounding name Woland, professes to be a professor of black magic. He is actually an incarnation of the Devil, and he is accompanied by a black cat named Behemoth, a naked maid, a disreputable clown, and an evil trickster. Woland and his minions proceed to play tricks on the Soviet literary and theatrical establishments and on the ordinary people of Moscow. Various people are packed off to places thousands of miles away, their vices dramatized, their moribund consciences awakened or called to answer, and their philistine natures exposed.

The unnamed...

(The entire section is 599 words.)

Master and Margarita Summary

Part 1
Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is split into three different, yet intertwined, versions of reality: events in...

(The entire section is 1298 words.)

Master and Margarita Summary and Analysis

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 1

New Characters
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.

Summary
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 a myth.

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...

(The entire section is 754 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 2

New Characters
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 causing unrest.

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.

Summary
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 entire section is 879 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapters 3–4

New Characters
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.

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 624 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapters 5–6

New Characters
Riukhin: A poet who helps bring Ivan into the psychiatric clinic.

Zheldybin: Berlioz’s assistant, who receives and spreads the news of Berlioz’s death.

Doctor (also known as Dr. Stravinsky): The head doctor of the Moscow psychiatric clinic.

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 617 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapters 7–8

New Characters
Styopa Likhodeev: The director of the Variety Theatre, he is also Berlioz’s roommate.

Rimsky: The financial director of the Variety Theatre.

Azazello: The third member of the Professor’s retinue.

Summary
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,...

(The entire section is 737 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapters 9-10

New Characters
Bosoy: Chairman of the tenants’ association at 302-bis.

Varenukha: Administrator of the Variety Theatre.

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 848 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapters 11-12

New Characters
Georges Bengalsky: The master of ceremonies at the Variety.

Sempleyarov: Chairman of the Moscow theatres’ Acoustics Commission. Praskovya Fyodorovna: A nurse.

Summary
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”...

(The entire section is 889 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 13

New Characters
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 basement apartment.

Summary
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”...

(The entire section is 705 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapters 14-15

New Characters
Sergei Gerardovich Dunchil Dunchil: A roughly 50-year-old man accused of hiding currency and a gold necklace.

Summary 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...

(The entire section is 809 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapters 16-17

New Characters
Vassily Stepanovich: The Variety Theatre’s bookkeeper.

Prokhor Petrovich: Chairman of the commission on light entertainments.

Anna Richardovna: The secretary to Prokhor Petrovich.

Summary
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,...

(The entire section is 896 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 18

New Characters
Poplavsky: Berlioz’s uncle.

Andrei Fokich Sokov: Barman at the Variety Theatre.

Kuzmin: A doctor who treats Sokov’s ailment.

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapters 19-20

New Characters
Nikolai Ivanovich: Margarita’s husband.

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 650 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapters 21-22

New Characters
Fat Man: A man who Margarita encounters on the banks of the Yenisey River.

Hella: A witch.

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 967 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 23

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 775 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 24

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 630 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 25

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 296 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapter 26

New Characters
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 henchmen.

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 667 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapters 27-28

New Characters
Pavel Yosifovich: A guard at the currency store.

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 735 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Chapters 29-32

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 886 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Epilogue

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 420 words.)