About the Book

Book Protagonist: Margarita
Publication Date: 1967
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, Philosophical Fiction

Themes and Analysis

The Master and Margarita

By Mikhail Bulgakov

The major themes of 'The Master and Margarita' include the conflict between good and evil, the significance of creativity and the arts, and the dangers of authoritarian control. The message of the book is that people may resist persecution and uphold their human ideals by using love, bravery, and the search of the truth.

The Master and Margarita‘ by Mikhail Bulgakov explores themes like the need, to tell the truth when authority would prefer to cover it up and freedom of the spirit in an oppressive society as it deals with the interaction of good and evil, innocence and guilt, courage and cowardice. The novel’s main themes also center on love and sensuality.

Margarita abandons her spouse out of her devotion to the Master, yet she survives the ordeal. She and the Master are united spiritually and sexually. The story is a riot of sensuous impressions, yet the humorous portions underscore the meaninglessness of sexual fulfillment without love. Nikolai Ivanovich, who becomes Natasha’s hog-broomstick, is a mocking representation of rejecting sexuality for the sake of hollow respectability.

Bravery and Fear in The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita‘ by Mikhail Bulgakov presents a compelling case for bravery over cowardice by labeling the latter as “the worst sin of all.” The love between the master and Margarita, Pontius Pilate’s decision to sentence Yeshua (Jesus) to death in Yershalaim (Jerusalem) two thousand years ago, and the three storylines that make up the novel—the visit of Woland (Satan) and his entourage to Moscow, the love between the master and Margarita, and Pontius Pilate’s condemnation of Yeshua (Jesus) to death—all work together.

Most of the characters in the novel who are from Moscow fall far short of the definition of courage, which is the willingness to stand up against something in the service of the greater good. Woland and his gang’s antics expose the self-interest, greed, and dishonesty of the masses and their collective cowardice, which strengthens the status quo and all of its flaws—and there were many in Soviet society. Woland may or may not have malicious intentions, but regardless, the havoc he causes brings out the worst aspects of society.

In many ways, Bulgakov reveals this moral cowardice. Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy, the head of the tenants’ organization on Sadovaya Street, demonstrates how it affects housing distribution by accepting a bribe from Koroviev, Woland’s assistant, to allow them to stay in the flat. The state-approved authors are also cowards who care more about good dining and vacations than they do about making artfully risky or sincere statements. Moreover, Moscow is characterized by an obsession with bureaucracy, where “obedient” citizens frequently attempt to report one another to the covert secret police.

The show by Woland and his gang at the Variety theater, in which they make money fall from the roof and incite the crowd to engage in fighting to snag as much as they can, serves as the culmination of this exposing of cowardice. Hence, self-interested moral cowardice and the refusal to sacrifice one’s security or comfort for anybody else have completely undermined Moscow society.

In the passages of the book that deal with Pontius Pilate, Bulgakov elaborates on his contrast between bravery and cowardice. Pilate exhibits the same kind of cowardice as the Moscow story’s Pilate when he must decide whether to sanction Yeshua Ha-Nozri’s execution. Though he is charmed by Yeshua’s extreme compassion and secretly yearns to set him free, he confirms Yeshua’s death out of fear of the repercussions of acting differently.

This is a combination of his self-interested determination to maintain his hegemon status and a general dread of upsetting the hierarchy (Yershalaim is an environment held together by a delicate balance of power). For two millennia, Pilate feels guilty about his choice and dreams frequently of walking with Yeshua. In these dreams, the two men concur that the execution never took place and that “cowardice is the worst sin of all.” Yeshua, on the other hand, exemplifies truly unselfish heroism by demanding that the water from the executioner’s sponge be given to one of his fellow dying men instead of drinking it himself. Bulgakov thus supports the notion that bravery entails making personal sacrifices for the sake of a greater good.

This idea of bravery is developed by Bulgakov in the Margarita character. She pursues the master despite not even knowing if he is still alive since she has a strong desire to help others. She is willing to take a significant risk by agreeing to host Satan’s Ball alongside Woland because of her fearless determination. Although Woland’s cannot be characterized as “pure evil,” as was previously said, Margarita is unsure whether making a deal with the devil will have dreadful repercussions.

She decides to use a wish that Woland gave her to release Frieda, a tortured soul at the ball, instead of giving in to her want to be with the master, demonstrating her brave willingness to serve others. This devotion is rewarded by a second wish, which does bring the master back despite irking Woland a little. The master is energized by Margarita’s bravery, and as a result, Pilate can be released from his millennium-long purgatory. So, selfless acts of courage in the story have a beneficial ripple effect that benefits everyone who participates.

Censorship in the Soviet Union

The editorial board rejects The Master’s book, and its “Pilatism” is harshly criticized by reviewers. The Master suffers from depression and is sent to a mental facility because he is unable to publish the novel into which he has invested all of his life and energy. The censorship practiced by the Soviet Union on writers while Bulgakov was writing is being parodied in this instance. That troubled him and constrained his ability to pursue an art career. This means that Bulgakov himself can be seen in The Master.

Woland’s presence fills the gap left in Soviet society by the censorship of Christian principles. He and his goons exploit the censorship of religion, bringing it to light in the process.

The Duality of Good and Evil in Man

The prevalence of evil in human nature is clear, given that the majority of the individuals in the book are connected to Pilate in some way. Before finally finding salvation, Pilate endures two thousand years of suffering for his sins. The Master is particularly connected to Pilate because he published a book solely about the historical figure and because of his peculiar character traits, like his inability to find solace in the moonlight.

The Master is a victim of Soviet society, much like Yeshua Ha-Nozri, though. Varenukha throws out his arms “as though he were being crucified,” and Frieda “dropped to the floor with her arms out, making a cross,” are examples of other characters who are similar to Yeshua.

Woland and his minions use people’s inherent evil tendencies to their advantage to punish them for their transgressions. But ultimately, most of the characters receive some sort of pardon. Although Woland is the devil, he is not depicted as being wholly bad and can be persuaded to be forgiving and even nice.

Love and Hope

Without a doubt, the core of ‘The Master and Margarita‘ is love. The master and Margarita, the book’s namesakes, are committed to one another even when their journeys take them in very different directions and are aware of their love for one another from the moment they first meet (although they are both already married). So, it is demonstrated that love is more than just a shared emotion between two people but also a power that controls their lives, akin to fate or destiny. Love also represents a form of hope, and because of the master and Margarita’s dedication to one another, this optimism keeps them both alive. In the book, hope and love coexist together, much like lovers.

The narrator speaks directly to the reader at the beginning of Book Two to describe the kind of love that the master and Margarita have for one another. The rest of the book is therefore informed by this definition, giving the impression that their love will eventually bring them together. The narrator specifically criticizes the “vile tongues” of “liars” who claim that this kind of love doesn’t exist by describing this love as “genuine, faithful, and forever.” After that, the narrator begs the reader to “join” them to experience “such a love.” The discussion of this kind of love then permeates the entirety of the book. Bulgakov wants his readers to experience this love and see how it overcomes the suffering of both individuals.

The book challenges the reader to consider their relationship to love by arguing for its existence: are their loves “true,” “loyal,” and “everlasting”; and if not, why not? Or is this the kind of love that is uncommon and not available to everyone?

The solution appears to be based on hope and faith; everyone, according to Bulgakov’s book, should believe in this form of love. The master and Margarita remain in love with one another while not knowing whether the other is xstill alive. Their lives have meaning and purpose thanks to this idea; in fact, it keeps them alive.

The master’s and Margarita’s perspectives on their love, however, differ significantly. Margarita never loses hope that she will locate her sweetheart, but the master purposely avoids getting in touch with her because he fears that the rejection of his masterpiece has driven him insane. He believes that freeing her is the best way to show his love for her. Nonetheless, despite being apart from one another, both characters make an effort to preserve their love as much as they can.


How does Goethe’s ‘Faust’ relate to ‘The Master and Margarita‘?

The epigraph of ‘The Master and Margarita‘ opens with a quotation from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Faust. The traditional tale of Faust, also known as Dr. Faustus, selling his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power, is retold in the play Faust. The concept of a Faustian agreement or bargain, in which a character exchanges something of metaphysical significance (such as their soul) for material wealth or power, is rooted in the tale of Faust. The Faustian pact’s conventional meaning is challenged in ‘The Master and Margarita.’ The Devil appears in ‘The Master and Margarita‘ and strikes deals with the characters. Goethe’s “Faust” is a metaphor for the bargain Woland makes with the characters he encounters. One, in which, they sell their soul for material gain.

What is ‘The Master and Margarita‘ really about?

The fight between good and evil is the subject of ‘The Master and Margarita.’ Through the portrayal of characters that represent these conflicting forces, the novel examines the nature of good and evil. Woland is portrayed as a dynamic and humorous character who sheds light on the moral decay of those around him. He and his retinue cause chaos in Moscow by manipulating and torturing people who are subject to their egotistical ambitions. Margarita, on the other hand, is a good and selfless person. She is persistent in her affection for the Master and her willingness to support him despite the challenges she endures. Her bravery and selfless deeds operate as a foil to the devil’s malice.

Is ‘The Master and Margarita‘ satire?

Bulgakov utilizes humor in the story of ‘The Master and Margarita to criticize the Soviet Union’s leadership as well as the social and cultural conventions of the day. Bulgakov satirizes the coercive nature of the Soviet state and the suppression of artistic expression through the portrayal of figures like the devil, who reveals the moral degeneration of those around him, and the Master, whose work is banned by the authorities.

Charles Asoluka
About Charles Asoluka
Charles is an experienced content creator, writer, and literary critic. He has written professionally for multiple reputable media organizations. He loves reading Western classics and reviewing them.
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