The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita Themes

The devil in disguies

The sparrow and swallow are likely Satan in disguise. In Chapter 2, "Pontius Pilate," the swallow 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 darted toward the bowl of the fountain, and escaped to freedom." It is as if the swallow is trying to convince Pilate not to let Yeshua die for the sins of the world, as God intended; it is the devil in disguise. The reader must draw this conclusion since Woland says he was present there, yet he is not mentioned as a character in his tale.

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. Kuzmin finds a sparrow hopping on his desk, but it is not behaving normally. "The wretched bird limped on its left foot, obviously clowning and dragging it, moving in syncopation - in short, it was dancing a fox trot to to the music of the phonograph like a drunk in a bar, staring at the professor as impudently and provokingly as it could."

Nature mimicking the characters' moods

In Chapter 10, nature's behavior mimics the moods and interactions of the characters, and even seems to act as a character itself. When he exits the theater through the garden, "a blast of wind blew sand into Varenukha's eyes, as though to warn him or to bar his way." 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."

Nature's behavior continues to mirrors Ivan's moods in Chapter 11, as well. While he 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." But after he is injected and becomes calm:

The wood beyond the river soon resumed its former aspect. It emerged, to the last tree, under a sky that had cleared and regained its deep azure hue. And the river calmed down. Ivan's sorrow began to dissipate imeediately after the injection, and now the poet lay quietly, looking at the rainbow flung across the sky.

In Chapter 50, the weather mirrors the characters' emotions as it has in the past; now, the storm that was gathering as Matthu Levi asked for peace for Margarita and the Master begins to break. As they alight on the horses, the storm cloud is personified as it was during the execution of Yeshua Ha-Nozri: "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."

The behavior of the weather is explained in the Epilogue, when 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."


The Master's novel is rejected by the editorial board, and critics write scathing reviews against its "Pilatism." Since he is unable to publish the novel into which he has poured his entire life and all his energy, the Master becomes depressed, and is 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 careerr. The Master is thus a reflection of Bulgakov himself.

The censhorship of Christian morals creates a hole in the Soviet society, and Woland's appearance fills that hole. He and his henchmen take advantage of the censorship of religion, drawing attention to it in the process.

Influence of Goethe's I[Faust]

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?" This allusion indicates the similarities between The Master and Margarita and 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.

The opera to which the Master refers could be one of two works. The first possibility was written by Charles Gounod. It was based on Michel Carre's play Faust et Marguerite, which was based on Part 1 of Goethe's play. The second possibility is the opera La damnation de Faust, written by Hector Berlioz and first performed in 1846.

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.

Bringing about one's own fate

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. It soon becomes clear that Woland punishes people for being greedy or dishonest.

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!"

O 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. 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..."


The critics who scorned the Master's novel accused him of "pilatism," but The Master and Margarita itself is infused with a type of "pilatism." Through vague connections to almost every important character, Pilate permeates the entire novel. His world exists in the characters' dreams, the devil's stories, as well as in the Master's novel.

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."

Bulgakov himself might have related to Pilate, since he received favors from Stalin while others were perishing in death camps. Writing The Master and Margarita was likely a way for him to cope with the guilt he might have felt.

Humans as evil, with a chance for redemption

Since most of the characters in the novel are tied to Pilate in some way, the prevalance of evil in human nature is apparent. Pilate suffers for his sins for two thousand years before finally achieving redemption. The Master is especially tied to Pilate, in that he wrote a novel entirely about the man and also in his idiosyncrasies as a character, such as not being able to find peace in the moonlight.

However, the Master is also like Yeshua Ha-Nozri in that he is a victim of Soviet society. Other characters are likewise paralleled to Yeshua: Varenukha throws out his arms "as though he were being crucified," and Frieda "fell to the floor with her arms out, making a cross."

Woland and his henchmen exploit the evil tendencies within people, and punish them for their sins. However, most of the characters are eventually forgiven in some sense. Though he is the devil, Woland is not portrayed as entirely evil, and can be convinced to be merciful and even agreeable.

The inconsistent narrator

Throughout the novel, the narrator vacillates between being omniscent and merely an unknowing observer. Sometimes he knows the characters' thoughts word for word, while at other times he reports things as if he is unclear of their validity. 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.

Music accompanying action

Throughout the novel, certain music is often described as accompanying important events. In Chapter 4, as Ivan runs toward Griboyedov's, "from all windows, all doors, all gateways, roofs and attics, cellars and courtyards, came the hoarse blasts of the polonaise from the opera Yevgeny Onegin. This fact is important because the music bothers Ivan: "all along his difficult journey, he was inexpressibly tormented for some reason by the ubiquitous orchestra accompanying a heavy basso who sang of his love for Tatyana." It is as if he is part of a story himself (which, of course, he is), and a musical score is provided to accompany his anguish.

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.