Mikhail Bulgakov's novel "The Master and Margarita" is one of the brightest pieces of Soviet literature on the hand with such masterpieces as One day of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Soljenitzin and Quite follows Don by Mikhail Sholohov.
'The Master and Margarita" impresses by the unity of philosophy, religion and satire on Soviet society. "The Master and Margarita" may be also considered as one of the greatest philosophical novels of modern times. Bulgakov touches immortal human problems in the novel: relationships of individual and society on the hand with vales of his contemporaries. Deep philosophical and ethic meaning of the novel is supplemented by bitter irony and witty sarcastic description of Soviet Russian society. Bulgakov's innovation in The Master and Margarita is obvious. Disposing vices and lawlessness of Soviet Moscow he doesn't choose a common method of justice, relying on God and good powers. Instead the instrument of justice is in hands of demonic powers and in the hands of Satan who trials sinners and apostates. It was a literal protest of the writer against epoch of atheism, immorality and belief in impunity. As soviet morality rejected Doomsday managed by God, Bulgakov wanted to show how the Doomsday managed by Satan would look like.
Personages of "The master and Margarita" participate in two plot lines: in Ancient Jerusalem and in Moscow of 1920's. Both in Jerusalem and in Moscow there is a struggle of good against evil, struggle against immorality for the sake of justice and triumph of truth. The following plot structure makes a lot of paradoxes as Bulgakov's dialectic narration on the hand with philosophical dualism contradicts common classic cannons of plot development. Bulgakov's heroes unite evil and virtue traits proving the postulate of his philosophy that there is neither absolute good nor absolute evil.
The main hero of the novel, Woland who embodies Satan takes part in both plot lines of the story: ancient and modern, playing the role of binding chain between past, imagination and reality. Woland is not a traditional embodiment of Satan's image as he poses the qualities similar both to God and Devil. But nevertheless demonic nature dominates over grace and virtues. Bulgakov's Woland is very close to Goethe's Mephistopheles, even the epigraph of the novel proves it:
"... who are you, then?"
"I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good." Goethe, Faust (from front matter)
Woland's dualistic nature, attributes of God's power make him be a conflicting personage revealing discrepancy of human being. Woland demonstrates his almightiness to everyone in the novel, he tells Matthew Levi, Christ's disciple that he is equal to God:
"Nothing is hard for me to do ... you know that very well." (p. 358)
So Bulgakov's image of Satan has nothing to do with classic comic elements used in description of evil spirits, as Satan's role in Bulgakov's writings expends over postulate of temptation as Satan's behavior in "The Master and Margarita" has a lot of Divine elements: he punishes and rewards, preaches and blames.
Woland's appearance, manners and behavior are evidence of grandeur:
'He was wearing an expensive grey suit and imported shoes of a matching colour. His grey beret was cocked rakishly over one ear; under his arm 1-e carried a stick with a black knob shaped like a poodle's head. He looked to be a little over forty. Mouth somehow twisted. Clean-shaven. Dark-haired. Right eye black, left -- for some reason -- green. Dark eyebrows, but one higher than the other. In short, a foreigner ... " (p. 7)
" Two eyes were fixed on Margarita's face. The right one with a golden spark at its bottom, drilling anyone to the bottom of his soul, and the left one empty and black, like the narrow eye of a needle, like the entrance to the bottomless well of all darkness and shadow. Woland's face was twisted to one side, the right corner of the mouth drawn down, the high, bald forehead scored by deep wrinkles running parallel to the sharp eyebrows. The skin of Woland's face was as if burned for all eternity by the sun ... "(p.250)
Woland is multi-faced as a devil has to be, presenting him differently to different people. He possesses almightiness of Satan demonstrating black magic, predicting future and telling the past. Woland is different from classic literal images of Satan as he doesn't act alone but has a retinue represented by demons of smaller rank: Koroviev-Fagot, Azzazello, Hella (vampire-woman) and a cat-werewolf, named Behemoth. These characters do not embody absolute evil, too. They execute the role of judges who trial with irony and wit.
Moreover Bulgakov's demonism carries a deeper ethical meaning: not to judge people by appearance. For example Woland's assistant Koroviev who plays different roles: interpreter, regent, swindler in the final scene turns to be a dark purple knight with a stone face.
Woland's mission in Russia's capital is different from traditional function of evil power in literature, instead of tempting people; Woland and his retinue protect virtues and morals of Muscovites punishing those who violate common laws of human ethics. He doesn't tempter people; his functions are directed on punishing those who don't follow moral norms. Woland disposes miserable desires and mercantilism in order to stigmatize and ridicule them later. Woland's retinue is not occupied with temptation of good people, but instead his servants locate and punish complete sinners.
Evil spirit is responsible for a number of outrages in Moscow which are both comic and tragic. Stepan Likhodeev, director of variety theatre, was lucky as Woland's assistants just sent him to Yalta, even though he deserved a more severe punishment. Nikanor Ivanovicgh Bosoy, chairman of the tenants' association, is also lucky as he was fairly punished for his bribe-taking. Fair punishment of those characters only proves that their vices were not really serious and mortal as they are common for any Philistine and narrow-minded society, where material values are of the main priority. These people are miserable: they are not more than pawns so they could be forgiven as their being doesn't make a remarkable impact on social relations - they are just the product of these relations.
Despising human evils of Soviet Russia, Bulgakov criticizes Soviet bureaucratic system which assumed the spread of bribery and red tape on different levels starting in households and ending in government offices. For example chairman of the tenants 'association (like Bosoy) had unlimited power as there was a lack of living space in all cities of Soviet Russia. Such bureaucrats as Bosoy used deficit in their own interests making money on people's misfortune. Woland's assistants do punish those small swindlers for pleasure, in order to dispose their sick essence and set an example for others. Woland understands that punishment of this mob is a waste of time; he will not change anything by doing that as this new class of bureaucrats is product of Soviet regime. Bulgakov planned a higher mission for Woland, that's why "business in Moscow" was a central task of his retinue, who didn't have a direct relation to chaos, as Moscow rogues became the victims of their cupidity voluntarily.
But neither small swindlers nor bribe-takers suffer most even though they deserve punishment for criminal behavior. Bulgakov had no plan to devote the central part to retribution of Soviet society defects. In many respects this is a theme of short stories, short satires and does not deserve to be central theme of the novel. Chronicle of adventures in Variety Theatre and in apartment num. 50 can be regarded as a collection of small satires as they are routine and usual for a deeper research.
Bulgakov had a quite different plan for Woland. Woland severely punishes those who seem to have no real vices. The Master defines it like the "man without a surprise inside." Financial director Rimsky, who tried to explain in an ordinary way extraordinary events, is cruelly punished. Woland's purges are also merciless to a barman Sokov at Variety who speaks a ridiculous speech about "sturgeon of second freshness":
"They supplied sturgeon of the second freshness,' the barman said.
'My dear heart, that is nonsense!'
'What is nonsense?'
'Second freshness -- that's what is nonsense! There is only one freshness - the first - and it is also the last. And if sturgeon is of the second freshness, that means it is simply rotten." (p.203)
Barman is a filcher as he steals, but his main vice is that when stealing he steal himself too. Woland says that this kind of people is abnormal, because it's not natural for men to avoid wine, good company and women. From the point-of-view of Woland (and Bulgakov) these people either mentally sick or simply hateful.
The most tragic fate is the fate of Mikhail Berlioz. The death of Berlioz is not an accident, or a joke of an author. Its meaning is very deep and central in the story. Berlioz represents ideological background of Soviet Russia, atheist…