The Master and Margarita By Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita By Mikhail Bulgakov

Literature │ Sympathy for the Devil

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

(published in “Avrupa” newspaper”)
Mikhail Bulgakov has truly earned his right to be known as one of the greatest satirical writers of modern Russian literature. Born in Kiev in 1891, Bulgakov started his career life as a doctor, but fate certainly had something else in store for him, he was destined to be one of Russia’s greatest writers. Turning his back on medicine, Bulgakov pursued a literary life, albeit, it was far from easy to do so when one lived in such a restricted society, in fact many of Bulgakov’s books were not published in his own country till the early 1980’s, forty years after his death. Such imposing restrictions lead Bulgakov feeling constrained, frustrated and fed up with such political pressures, he therefore did what many did not have the courage to do, he wrote to the Great Russian Government requesting permission to leave in order to write with freedom. To his surprise, Bulgakov received a very interesting phone call. The phone call was from no other than Stalin himself, offering Bulgakov a job as an assistant producer with the Moscow Arts theatre. Although Bulgakov accepted this position, he still felt the shackles imposed upon his literature which was not permitted for publishing, at least not until they were severely altered. This is what lead him to burning his first manuscript of The Master and Margarita which was first completed version of this novel was made available in 1973, and action which mirrors his character the Master in the novel.

The devil, Woland, disguised as a professor and a magician of the black arts, pays a visit to Moscow with his entourage; a large black cat called Behemoth who enjoys vodka and playing cards, a naked witch and many other unnerving characters. We learn quite quickly that one of the worst things that one can do when meeting the devil is to deny his existence as Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz finds out. This immediately causes one to recall the denial of Christ by Peter three times; both have dire consequences. This is only one of the links between modern day Russia portrayed in the novel and the story of Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ also known as Yeshua Ha-Nozri (Jesus the Nazarene). We are immediately thrown in a fantastical tale which entices us deeper and deeper into the ether; great and small stories which run through the main narrative are so incredibly well constructed that they could almost be true. As Bulgakov’s characters meet the devil and his retinue, they quickly become considered as psychotic and are shipped off to the local asylum, the first character to be immediately considered as schizophrenic is the poet, Nikolayevich Ponyrov (Bezydomny) who claims to have met the devil, a professor, who he claims to have been present when Pilate sentenced Jesus to death, not to mention seeing a large cat trying to board a tram with a ticket in his hand. Off course, such ramblings and erratic behavior which soon follows, leads to time in the hospital. It is not till later that one is able to follow a link between Bezydomny, which means homeless, and the story of Yeshua who too is seen as a wanderer, a seer as a poet, and one who seems to be rambling incoherently. Bulgakov gives the reader an insight into a conversation between Pilate and Yeshua who calls Pilate a good man, which hits a nerve with the stern Pilate. Yeshua proclaims that there is no evil man, but good, which is the way Bulgakov portrays Woland.

Woland who has brought his full moon spring celebrations to Moscow may seem at first truly devilish, but in fact; all that he does is relish in watching the true nature of mankind to reveal itself, and it is ugly. This satirical novel shows the way in which people are selfish, greedy and cowardly, and it is this concept of cowardice which radiates the most from this piece, it is about, seeing and believing in the truth and then having the courage not deny it. Just as Bulgakov was denied the right for freedom of expression, the Master does not have the courage to publish his manuscript (he burns it) on Pilate due to the fear of its reception by the government; all it takes is the courage to see something till the bitter end. If Pilate had the courage to stop the execution of a man who he knew to be innocent, he would not be tormented by this action and forced to be tormented in the hereafter as implied later in the book.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is available from from £4. 79
This novel without a doubt is incredibly mesmerizing; the humor is sardonic and unstoppable, therefore one must be prepared to laugh out loud in public albeit on the bus or train on the way to work in which you insist on sharing an extract with the stranger you are sitting next to so that you are not considered as a mad woman/man, or an echo from the bathtub. One also becomes quite attached to the omniscient narrator who is clearly quite present throughout the book, always making absolutely sure that we are paying attention and understanding the scenes that are unveiled to us, the avid reader.

©Zehra Mustafa

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