The Master and Margarita is a multilevel novel. It has been called a tale of two cities, Moscow and Jerusalem, and a novel-puzzle. It starts in Moscow and ends in Moscow; between, there is a fantastic tale containing several important happenings. When Woland (the devil) suddenly arrives in Moscow, he chastises the Muscovites for their immoral behavior; dazzles them with predictions of death and tricks performed by his retinue, especially by a pistol-packing tomcat; and organizes theater performances at which he brings to light the citizens’ insincerity, avarice, selfishness, and other weaknesses. Mikhail Bulgakov is criticizing and satirizing how the Soviet system totally controls every aspect of life.
In the second chapter, the tale of the other city, Jerusalem, begins, introducing different problems with similar basic meanings. When Pontius Pilate faces an itinerant, Yeshua Ha-Notsri, who represents Jesus Christ, the confrontation brings out important moral and philosophical issues such as the nature of truth, matters of guilt and innocence, and the dichotomy of good and evil, the spiritual and the material, as well as the real and the imagined. The novel then tries to answer and solve these questions.
The main reason, however, for Bulgakov’s connecting these apparent opposites is the oppressive life the citizens were forced to live in the Soviet Union in the first half of the twentieth century. The protagonist of the novel, known only as the Master, a budding young writer who is working on a novel about his difficult life, is led to despair and to thoughts of burning his manuscript and committing suicide. He and his novel are saved by the young woman Margarita, whose love for him overpowers his problems. Another victim of circumstance is Bulgakov himself, who for years...
(The entire section is 740 words.)