Summary (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
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....
(The entire section is 999 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Master and Margarita Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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 entire section is 599 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 1298 words.)
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 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 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,...
(The entire section is 754 words.)
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 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.
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 companion.
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...
(The entire section is 879 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 624 words.)
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 Berlioz’s death.
Doctor (also known as Dr. Stravinsky): The head doctor of the Moscow psychiatric clinic.
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...
(The entire section is 617 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 7–8
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.
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 consciousness.
At the same time, 11:30 A.M., Ivan wakes up. He calls for an...
(The entire section is 737 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 848 words.)
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 down.
The audience starts...
(The entire section is 889 words.)
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 basement apartment.
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...
(The entire section is 705 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Chapters 14-15
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 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...
(The entire section is 809 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 896 words.)
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 much-needed rest.
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,...
(The entire section is 491 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 650 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 967 words.)
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 entire section is 775 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 630 words.)
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 Aphranius leaves.
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.
(The entire section is 296 words.)
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 henchmen.
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...
(The entire section is 667 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 735 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 886 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 420 words.)