Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The Master

The Master, an unnamed Muscovite who, after winning a lottery, retires to a basement apartment to write a novel about Pontius Pilate. Devastated when it is rejected by scornful editors, he attempts to burn the manuscript. The Master finds refuge in a mental hospital, where he meets Ivan and continues to imagine ancient Yershalayim. He is retrieved from the hospital by Woland, at the request of Margarita.


Margarita, the wife of a wealthy factory owner who falls in love with the Master and visits him clandestinely in his basement rooms. She fervently believes in his novel and attempts, unsuccessfully, to get editors to publish it. After the Master’s disappearance, she is summoned by Azazello and flies off, naked, on a broom to apartment number 50 at 302-b Sadovaya Street in Moscow, where she serves as hostess of Satan’s spring ball of the full moon.


Woland, also known as Satan, Messire, and the Devil, who shows up, in the guise of a German professor, in Moscow’s Patriarchs’ Pond Park. The magic show that he and his cohorts perform at the Variety Theater, in which the emcee is beheaded and money and clothing materialize, ends in pandemonium. Woland takes over Berlioz’s apartment as his headquarters. There, he stages a satanic ball attended by a wide range of guests, living and deceased.

Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyrev

Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyrev (nih-koh-LA-yeh-vihch POH-nih-rehv), a young writer who uses the pen name Ivan Homeless. He is commissioned to write an antireligious poem about Jesus. His hysterical account of the supernatural mischief of Woland and his cohorts to fellow writers at the Griboyedov House causes him to be hospitalized and diagnosed as schizophrenic. After meeting the Master in an adjoining room, he listens to his story and becomes his literary disciple.

Yeshua Ha-Nozri

Yeshua Ha-Nozri, an accused rabble-rouser from Galilee. He is a solitary and timorous figure unsure of his calling. Resentful of Matthu Levi, he asks him to burn his manuscript. He is put to an agonizing death on Bald Mountain on the outskirts of Yershalayim.

Matthu Levi


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(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Barrat, Andrew. Between Two Worlds: A Critical Introduction to “The Master and Margarita.” Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1987. Astute examination of various interpretations dealing mainly with the Gnostic message and the appearance of the mysterious messenger Woland. Extensive select bibliography and index.

Curtis, J. A. E. Bulgakov’s Last Decade: The Writer as Hero. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Study of Bulgakov’s literary profile. Contains a discussion of The Master and Margarita. Good bibliography of primary and secondary sources. Useful index.

Ericson, Edward E. Lewiston. Apocalyptic Vision of Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita.” New York: E. Mellen Press, 1991. Challenging interpretation of the apocalyptic aspect of the novel as its basic underpinning.

Milne, Lesley, ed. Bulgakov: The Novelist-Playwright. Luxembourg: Harwood Academic, 1995. Collection of background articles, including one on The Master and Margarita. Illustrated, bibliography and index.

Proffer, Ellendea. Bulgakov: Life and Work. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1984. Thorough biography covering all important aspects of Bulgakov’s life and works. The Master and Margarita is discussed at length.

Weeks, Laura D., ed. Master and Margarita: A Critical Companion. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1996. Collection of articles by various authors, covering recent criticism, problems of genre and motif, apocalyptic and mythic aspects, letters and diaries, and others.

Wright, Anthony Colin. Mikhail Bulgakov: Life and Interpretations. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978. Includes a solid treatment of The Master and Margarita. Good select bibliography.