The Master and Margarita

Bulgakov's Devil: Not so evil after all: Gnostic Elements in The Master and Margarita

The devil is a common literary icon. This enemy of God has generally been established as an unwavering representation of evil—a figure out to trick and torment his arch-nemesis and readers alike. Whether making pacts with mortals to sell their souls or raising armies against Heaven, literary representations of the devil have been largely concerned with religious themes, quite often concluding with a crescendo of either God’s heroic defeat over evil or Satan’s tragic ‘fall’. Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, however, complicates the role and characterization of the devil, a foreign “professor of magic” visiting Soviet Russia who is clearly established to be Satan on earth, unleashing his inherent wickedness on other characters.

Though Bulgokov’s character of Woland is the devil per se, it is the purpose of this wicked role that can lend to readers a new reading of the text. This paper will seek to analyze three major characters of the novel along Gnostic parameters: Woland, Yeshua and Margarita. In doing so, Woland can be read as a counter-part of God: a figure representative of the dualistic quality of dark. By this understanding, Woland is the dark to the character of Yeshua Ha-Notsri’s “lightness.” In a Gnostic...

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