(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

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.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Master and Margarita is generally regarded as Bulgakov’s best work and as one of the masterpieces of world literature. It incorporates the satirical fantasy of The Heart of a Dog but carries this to a higher level of sophistication and artistry. Bulgakov began writing the book in 1928 but reported burning the first version of the manuscript in 1930, after one of his plays was banned. He later wrote a second version and finally finished a draft of a third version in 1937, but he continued working on this last draft until his death.

In the first scene of the book, two Soviet atheist literary men, Berlioz and the poet Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyryov, who has the pen name Bezdomny, meet a mysterious magician named Woland on a park bench in Moscow. Woland, who is Satan in disguise, interrupts a discussion of theology, prefiguring the eruption of the religious and magical into materialist Soviet official reality that will run throughout the book. Woland predicts that Berlioz’s head will be cut off at a precise time later that morning. Numerous satirical references to Soviet life appear in the first chapter. For example, Berlioz is is the head of the MASSOLIT, a Soviet-style acronym for a writers’ organization that could be rendered in English as “Lottalit.” The initial chapter is entitled “Never Talk to Strangers,” which would not only be good advice for the two men meeting Satan but also reflects Soviet paranoid propaganda about public enemies....

(The entire section is 608 words.)