The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita Summary and Analysis of Book One - Chapters 16-17


Chapter 16 - "The Execution"

This chapter begins as the previous chapter ended, indicating that it takes place in Ivan's dream. The procession up Bald Mountain for the execution is taking place, and the heat is unbearable for everyone involved except for Mark Rat-Killer. Matthu Levi has remained behind the legionaries, and watches the execution from beneath a dying fig tree. Earlier, he had desperately tried to break through the soldiers and had run up the hill desperately, but now he sits, defeated. He is tormented because Yeshua is still alive, suffering, and prays for death to be merciful. He feels guilty for having fallen ill and thus not having been able to accompany and protect Yeshua when he went into Yershalayim.

While he had been chasing alongside the cart that carried the condemned, Matthu's plan had been to jump into the cart and kill Yeshua quickly and mercifully. But he didn't have a knife or money to buy one, so he ran back into town and stole a long bread knife from a shop. However, he returned too late to catch the procession, so instead he suffers while he waits for Yeshua to die, cursing God.

A storm is rising. The mysterious cowled man with whom Pilate spoke before the sentencing, who the reader will later learn is named Aphranius, instructs one of the executioners to offer water on a sponge to Yeshua, who asks that a drink also be given to Dismas, who is hung on the second post. After giving the condemned men a drink, the executioner puts them out of their misery by pricking them in the heart with a spear. Aphranius proclaims them dead, and then a downpour begins. Matthu uses the stolen knife to cut all the prisoners down from the posts, and runs off with Yeshua's body.

Chapter 17 - "A Troubled Day"

Back in Moscow, it is Friday morning, the day after Woland's show. The staff of the variety theater watches the line of ticket buyers grow outside the window. Vasily Stepanovich Lastochkin, the bookkeeper, is in charge since all his superiors have disappeared mysteriously. Investigating officials arrive at the theater with the famous dog Ace of Diamonds, who unfortunately is unable to follow the scent. The commission is unable to track any leads, and at noon, they are still totally mystified. The staff at the Variety Theater is dismissed.

Vasily Stepanovich packs up the money from the previous night's performance, but when he tries to use it to pay for a taxi, the driver indicates that the chervonets customers have been using has turned out to be trick money. Vasily Stepanovich arrives at the Commission on Spectacles and Light Entertainment to report on the previous days events, to find Prokhor Petrovich, the chairman of the commission, to have disappeared; only his suit remains, and it is talking and conducting business as usual. His private secretary, Anna Richardovna, is panicking and blames the disappearance on the chairman's constant swearing. She explains that a cat-faced man, Behemoth, had upset Petrovich, who had yelled, "The devil take me!" Behemoth said, "The devil take you? Why not, it can be done!" And the commissioner disappeared.

Since he clearly cannot report anything at the Commission, Vasily Stepanovich decides to walk to its branch office on Vagankovsky Lane. There, he is baffled by the behavior of the staff, who all break out into song at certain intervals. In between bouts of involuntary singing, they beg for help because they cannot control their voices. One young lady explains to Vasily Stepanovich that the director of the branch office had brought in a choirmaster, who, from the description, is clearly Koroviev. Koroviev disappeared, but they continued singing involuntarily. Soon, trucks arrive and take the entire staff of the branch office to Professor Stravinsky's hospital.

A half-hour later, Vasily Stepanovich arrives at the financial office of the Entertainment Sector to turn over the money from the previous night's performance. When he opens the newspaper in which he has wrapped the money, he is taken aback: there is "an array of foreign money" rather than anything useful. He is recognized as "one of those tricksters from the Variety Theater" and put under arrest.


In these chapters, nature is personified to mirror the course of events. The sun is personified as its heat is described as tormenting the execution procession: "The sun had melted the crowd away and driven it back to Yershalyaim." Later, "the sun had vanished before it reached the sea in which it drowned every evening. The storm cloud that had swallowed it rose steadily and menacingly from the west." Near where Matthu Levi watches the procession, "A sickly fig tree tried desperately to live, clutching at the heaven-cursed waterless earth."

Other figurative language, besides personification, is also used to describe the chaotic situation in Moscow. The commission struggles to solve the mystery of the disappearing staff of the Variety Theater, but "the thread kept breaking in its hands." After Anna Richardovna runs out of the commissioner's office, "the bookkeeper shot out after her like a bullet."

The narrator continues to be a bit unreliable and inconsistent in terms of his knowledge. When the reader finds out, in Chapter 16, that Matthu Levi lingered behind the legionaries in the procession up the hill, the narrator must correct himself: "What has been said before - that not a single man remained behind the legionaries - was not entirely accurate. There was one man, but few could see him." This reversal of previous statements is characteristic of the narrating style, and throws into question the legitimacy of all aspects of this story.

Eyes are significant in these chapters, conveying the characters' states of mind and serving as a characterization tool. As Matthu Levi tries to break through the soldiers to the place of execution, "His eyes... were unseeing and utterly indifferent to everything, as though he were a man insensible to physical pain." When he has calmed down, he is described as having "eyes inflamed from too much sun and lack of sleep." When Dismas complains that it is unfair for Yeshua to be given water when he is not offered any, "Hate burned in his eyes." Even the dog, Ace of Diamonds, is described as having "extremely intelligent eyes."

In Chapter 17, the significance of the use of the term "devil" as a swear term in the language of the characters is made clear. Prokhor Petrovich yells at Behemoth, "The devil take me!" And in response, he disappears, leaving only his suit, which operates independently of its owner. Anna Richardovna tells Vasily Stepanovich, "I've always, always tried to stop him when he swore! The devil take this, the devil take that! He's done it now!"