The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Discuss one symbol that is associated with Satan, and give examples of its occurrences.

    The sparrow is a symbol associated with Satan, and it is implied that it might be Satan in disguise. In Chapter 2, "Pontius Pilate," the sparrow darts into the colonnade and sweeps down, before disappearing behind a column. While it flies, Pilate decides that there is no need to sentence Yeshua to death. Right before he dictates this to his secretary, "The swallow's wings flicked over the Hegemon's head; the bird dated toward the bowl of the fountain, and escaped to freedom." In Chapter 3, "The Seventh Proof," a sparrow comes "darting out of the linden tree above them" as Ivan insists to Woland that there is no devil. In this case, the sparrow is a sign of the devil's presence, since Woland is, in fact, standing right there while Ivan denies his existence. The theme of the sparrow returns in Chapter 18, representing the workings of the devil, or the presence of the devil himself, when Kuzmin finds a sparrow hopping on his desk.

  2. 2

    Provide and discuss some examples of the influence of Goethe's Faust in The Master and Margarita.

    The novel begins with the epigraph from Faust:

    "Who art thou, then?

    "Part of that Power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good."

    Allusions throughout the novel indicate the influence of Faust, a tragic play published in two parts in 1806 and 1832 and considered to be one of the most important works of German literature. In Chapter 13, after Ivan describes Woland and his interaction with him to the Master, the Master scolds him for not recognizing the devil. He exclaims, "Well, then... for even the face you described, the different eyes, the eybrows! ...You'll pardon me, but perhaps you have never even heard the opera Faust?" In Chapter 17, the investigators ask Vasily Stepanovich what the performer from the previous night's name was, and he answers that perhaps it was Woland, but it "might have been Valand." Valand is the German form of Woland, and the version that appears in Faust. Margarita's name recalls the character Gretchen, the young girl who is ruined by Faust. Gretchen is the German diminutive of Margarete. The symbol of the poodle permeates Satan's ball in Chapter 23; Margarita must wear a heavy necklace with the image of a poodle, and she rests her foot on "a cushion with a gold poodle embroidered on it." This symbol is an allusion to Goethe's Faust, in which the devil Mephistopheles appears to Faust as a poodle.

  3. 3

    In the Epilogue, Ivan dreams of the execution of Yesha Ha-Nozri: "But what is most terrifying is not the executioner, but the unnatural light in the dream, coming from a cloud that is boiling and tumbling on the earth, as always at moments of world catastrophe." Explain how this statement is true, outside the world of Pilate and Ha-Nozri.

    In Chapter 10, Varenukha's abduction is accompanied by an approaching storm. When Behemoth punches Varenukha, "the sky echoed with a clap of thunder," and when Azazello also punches him, "again, there was an answering crash in the sky, and a cloudburst came down upon the wooden roof of the toilet." As they drag him away, "the storm raged with full force, water gushed booming and clattering into sewer holes, waves swelled and bubbled everywhere, sheets of rain lashed from the roofs past drainpipes, foaming rivers streamed from under gateways." In Chapter 11, while Ivan gets worked up about not being able to convey accurately the events leading up to Berlioz's death in a report, "Outside the window, water tumbled down in a solid sheet. Again and again fiery threads flashed in the sky, the sky cracked, and the patient's room was flooded with fitful, frightening light." The storm builds, and as he beings to weep, "the menacing cloud with seething edges had come up from the distance and blanketed the wood." In Chapter 30, as Margarita, the Master, and Azazello alight on the black horses, the storm cloud is personified: "The cloud rushed to meet the riders, but it was not yet spraying any rain." As they fly over the city, "The first drops were beginning to fall."

  4. 4

    Does Woland identify victims at random? Why or why not?

    Woland's victims are not random; though at first they seem so, it soon becomes clear that Woland punishes people for being greedy or dishonest. Throughout the book, characters use language that invokes the devil. Inevitably, some terrible misfortune befalls them as a consequence. They are being careless in their speech, but oftentimes it accompanies deliberate ignoring of a warning from the devil or one of his henchmen. 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!"

  5. 5

    Is the narrator omniscient? How do we know?

    Though the narrator is omniscient, as is clear through his knowledge of the characters' innermost thoughts, at certain points throughout the novel, he assumes the role of an unknowing observer.

    This technique was probably intended to avoid topics that would be censored by the Soviet government; for example, when the Master whispers only to Ivan what happened when there was a knock at the window, the narrator says that only the poet knows what was said. It can be inferred that the Master was arrested, but in avoided a clear description of the events, the narrator feigns removal.

  6. 6

    Describe one way in which the Master is a reflection of Bulgakov himself.

    Both the Master and Bulgakov are censored writers. The Master's novel is rejected by the editorial board. Since he is unable to publish the novel into which he has poured his entire life and all his energy, the Master becomes depressed. He is arrested for his ideas, and committed to a mental institution.

    This situation satires the censorship that was so prevalent against authors by the Soviet Union while Bulgakov himself was writing. It plagued him and limited his artistic inspiration and career. The Master is thus a reflection of Bulgakov himself.

  7. 7

    What role does music play in The Master and Margarita?

    Throughout the novel, certain music is often described as accompanying important events. It is as if Bulgakov provides a soundtrack for the story, as in a film. In Chapter 4, as Ivan runs toward Griboyedov's, he is tormented by the polonaise from the opera Yevgeny Onegin. In Chapter 20, as Margarita awaits Azazello's phonecall, "a thunderous virtuoso waltz burst out of an open window somewhere across the lane." As she flies out the window, "the waltz rose louder over the garden," and as she cries out, "Farewell forever! I am off!" she drowns it out with her voice. Hallelujah by Vincent Youmans appears throughout the story: it is played in Griboyedov in Chapter 5, at Kuzmin's house in Chapter 18, and at Satan's ball in Chapter 23.

  8. 8

    What is the significance of the leitmotif "Oh gods, gods..."?

    This refrain, which appears as a sort of leitmotif ten times throughout the novel, is an interpretation of the quotation from Giuseppe Verdi's opera Aida. This opera was known and loved by Bulgakov, and he quotes it in other ways in some of his other works, as well. The quote is from the last stanza of the first scene of Act I:

    Oh gods, have pity on my suffering!

    There is no hope for my sorrow.

    Fatal love, terrible love,

    break my heart, make me die!

    Oh gods, have pity on my suffering! etc.

    This phrase is an appropriate leitmotif, as the question of God's existence is prominent throughout the novel. It also serves to link the Master to Pilate, both of whom repeat it often as a reflection of their neurosis. The narrator himself uses this phrase in Chapter 19, speaking of Margarita's unhappiness: "Gods, gods! What did this woman need? This woman, in whose eyes there always flickered an enigmatic little spark? This witch with just the slightest cast in one eye, who had adorned herself that spring day with mimosa? I do not know." In the Epilogue, the narrator reports that Ivan often walks to the house of Nikolay Ivanovich, who is sitting on a bench looking at the moon, regretting not flying away with Natasha. Ivan watches him and says to himself, "Gods, gods... Another victim of the moon... Yes, another victim, like me..." Thus Ivan and Nikolay Ivanovich are linked to Pilate and the Master through their invocation of the "gods."

  9. 9

    What is the role of "pilatism" in The Master and Margarita?

    The critics who scorned the Master's novel accused him of "pilatism," which the Master calls "a fantastic expression." Pilatism affects The Master and Margarita itself, through symbols that link the characters to Pilate. His world exists in the characters' dreams, the devil's stories, as well as in the Master's novel. For example, The moon is a symbol associated with Pilate, especially in his inability to find peace in the moonlight (a plague of which he often complains). Its appearance throughout the novel serves as an allusion to Pilate, and infusing the other worlds of the story with pilatism. For example, right before Berlioz dies, "the moon flashed for the last time, already splintered into bits." In the Epilogue, neither Ivan nor Nikolay Ivanovich can find peace under a full spring moon.

  10. 10

    Give three examples of disciples in The Master and Margarita.

    One obvious disciple is Matthu Levi, who follows Yeshua Ha-Nozri. He scribbles on a parchment, though Yeshua claims that what he writes is nonsensical, and Pilate sees for himself that it likely is. The Master calls Ivan his disciple, though Ivan does not choose to follow him. He merely listens to the Master's story and believes it. Koroviev, Behemoth, and Azazello are disciples of Woland; they do his bidding and act as his agents.