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Master and Margarita is considered by the
critics one of the best novels of the twentieth century. This novel can “be
reasonably called the greatest novel to come out of Communist Russia, a work of
magical realism, a pre-apocalyptic novel, a love story, a biting political
satire” (Murdoch) .

The book written
by Mihail Bulgakov has three main storylines. The first one is about a visit by
the devil to the Soviet Union. He disguises himself as “Woland”, an enigmatic
and peculiar magician. His appearance is hard to pin-point due to the fact that
he is described differently by every witness:

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says he was short, had gold teeth, and was lame in his right foot. Another says
that he was hugely tall, had platinum crowns and was lame in his left foot. Yet
a third notes laconically that he had no distinguishing features whatsoever.” (Bulgakov)

Woland’s entourage
consists of Behemoth (a giant cat that is able to walk, speak and even take
human form), Koroiev (Woland’s assistant and a skilled illusionist), Azazello
(a demon-assassin) and Hella (Woland’s vampire maid). Together, they play
tricks on anyone that stands in their way. 

Pontious Pilate’s Jerusalem and the fate of Yeshua Ha-Notsri (Jesus of Nazareth)
are presented in this novel.  Even though
these different stories don’t seem connected, their relation becomes apparent
when the third storyline, the love story between Margarita and the Master is
presented and everything fits together.

novel itself is an allegory of good and evil, and could be considered protest
literature, due to its parallels between Woland and Stalin, but also due to it
being a response to the atheistic propaganda from the Stalinist era. Bulgakov
weaves in his book elements of political satire with biblical symbolism,
through the double-sided representation of the divine and the demonic. While
describing the events from the Gospel, the narrator focuses more on the human
nature of Yeshua (Jesus) rather than the divine one. This description does not
interfere with the soviet communist doctrine, because it does not hint to
divine power, thus resulting a pagan version of the Gospel.

On the other hand,
Yurchenko notes that ‘the novel’s elaborate structure, independence of
events, mystical characters and historical figures having philosophical
conversations would not have pleased the “new” reader looking for simplicity
and practical recommendations in literature’ (Yurchenko). Similarly, David
Gillespie believes that ‘The novel eschews realism- both critical and socialist
– from its very first pages’, making it rather dissimilar from the dictated
realities portrayed by Socialist Realist literature, which had no room for
anything mystical or ‘paranormal’. (Gillespie)

Master and Margarita is also a story within a story. At some point it is
revealed that the tale of Yeshua is part of the Master’s own burnt novel. He
wants to liberate himself from the criticism and the strain of the manuscript,
hoping to feel purified through the action of fire on the manuscript. Woland
returns the manuscript to him, saying “Don’t you know that manuscripts don’t
burn?” which quickly became one of the most memorable and important quotes from
this particular piece of literature.  The
burning of the manuscript also has a biographical meaning, being derived from
the author’s own experiences. It took ten years to write the novel, during
which several manuscripts were burned, because they were considered very
dangerous. The persecution by the regime didn’t deter him, but instead
determined him to finish the novel and rewrite several chapters from memory, as
Bulgakov explained, ‘I know it by heart.’ During this time, the author started
thinking about different titles, all still being centred on Satan – The
Great Chancellor, Satan, Here I Am, The Black Theologian, He Has Come, The
Hoofed Consultant.

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