Master And Margarita In Mikhail

Excerpt from :

Master and Margarita

In Mikhail Bulgakov's novel the Master and Margarita, the author uses the literary device of presenting a novel within a novel -- a story within a story -- and within that context he presents a creative account of the trial that Jesus of Nazareth went through before Pontius Pilate. There are several strong themes in this novel but among the most potent is the idea that the power of a writer's narrative -- and the effective use of literary tools and strategies -- can make believers out of skeptical readers and can in fact create reality out of fiction (at least a temporary reality). Moreover, world-class narrative can bring the reader to a chair right next to the author, through all the psychological and emotional trauma that is associated with long weeks and months of sitting in front of a typewriter building characters, setting tone, creating conflict, and irony.

Among the impressive aspects of Bulgakov's work is the way the author accomplishes so many things in the writing of this book -- including re-opening the whole question of Christ and his crucifixion -- and yet he leaves questions lingering in the minds of alert readers -- as many novelists do as part and parcel of their desire to stir imaginations and host wonderment -- that can stir new stories unconnected with Bulgakov's stories. Moreover: a) Bulgakov does a more believable, well-organized job of reporting on the trial of Christ than a reader of the New Testament can glean through the narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; since no one living today was present at that trial Christian believers only have the four Gospels to go by and Bulgakov's rendition is more powerful; and b) given that Bulgakov was writing this book in a highly repressive era of the communist Soviet Union, does that explain why, at the end of the book, Ieshua (Christ) asks Woland (representing the devil) to free Pilate? Why wouldn't Ieshua take care of that matter Himself, given that he was apparently powerful enough? This point is relevant because Bulgakov was living under the considerably evil thumb of the Soviets, sometimes in an asylum to boot, and he was most certainly beholding to the tyranny of the state.

Main Body of Paper

In this novel -- that contains a novel within a novel -- the author is proving, whether he actually set out to do so or not, that writing an important fictional work is an extraordinary physical and psychological accomplishment -- and yet endings that solve puzzles are not always forthcoming. He lets readers in on how difficult it is, and builds credibility in the process. In his work he is creating another self within one's self. Tabitha McIntosh-Byrd explains that the Master's completion of the novel is "a sort of extended meditation on the nature of being an author" (McIntosh-Byrd, 2000, p. 1). Indeed, finishing the novel was the "culmination of everything he was working toward" -- which lines up well with the reality of authors and novels. The Master's personality -- his "alternative self" -- is where his dreams reside but like any artist that has become exhausted with the creative process, the Master gives up.

"How will you be able to write now?" The Woland asks. The Master replies, "I have no more dreams and my inspiration is dead… I'm finished" (McIntosh-Byrd). However, he's quite human in this matter and like any frustrated artist the Master throws up his proverbial hands. But later of course he loves his story again. McIntosh-Byrd is absolutely on the mark when she explains more fully what this paper embraced as a thesis in the introduction: The Master goes through a pattern of "creative struggle, rejection, self-doubt and transcendence," which, McIntosh-Byrd asserts is a representation of the "simultaneous exploration and rejection of glorification through pain." And so it makes sense that in the Master's rendition of the crucifixion he presents a more joyful scene rather...
...Negativity and extra hardship (like having to go through Purgatory to earn one's way to heaven) are rejected by the Master in favor of what McIntosh-Byrd explains as "Grace and acceptance" (p. 1)

To reference again the thesis of this paper, that stirring, believably straight forward narrative can make believers out of doubters -- the same as sensationally well-acted film scenes make believers out of movie-goers who came to their seats as doubters -- and can create fact out of fiction. Critic Donald B. Pruitt uses "cold hard fact" from the narrative involving Christ's trial to set those chapters aside from the chapters that are fantasy. Pruitt sees the success that Bulgakov has accomplished by editing St. John's version of Pilate and Christ's discussion, and in truth Bulgakov's version is read-made for creative realism.

In the Gospel According to John, Pilate says to Christ: "Do you not know that I have the power to release you and power to crucify you?" (Pruitt, 1981, p. 2). Christ answered: "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above…" (p. 2). In Bulgakov's version, Pilate says something more contemporary and likely more true to what actually took place: "[Your life] is hanging by a thread: know that." Christ answered cryptically: "You don't think, do you, hegemon, that it is you who hung it?" "If you do," Christ continued, "you are quite wrong." To which Pilate replied: "I can cut that thread." And Christ's realistic reply, given his power as the Son of God: "You are wrong there, too." And thereupon Pilate asserted that "…only he who hung the thread can cut it" (Bulgakov, 36-37).

Among the questions that the author does not provide answers for, and hence leaves a sense of uncertainty trailing his novel, is the mystery raised by Margot K. Frank in Canadian-American Slavic Studies. Why is the Master denied access to Heaven? The curious lack of a solution to this question certainly gives readers and critics further interest in the book, and as mentioned earlier in this paper, part of the power of the book is that questions about why the author chose to do what he did. These questions could go on for as long as there are books to read and arguments to make in reference to the plots in those books. Frank posits that the Master is denied Heaven because in his novel within the novel he did not indicate to readers that Ieshua is indeed the Biblical Christ. So Frank believes "…this omission appears to be the Master's primary transgressions and results in denial of heaven" (Frank, 1981, p. 3).

A second possibility for the fact that the Master winds up in a "peaceable limbo" -- listening to Schubert -- rather than in Heaven could be that the author actually was more sympathetic with Woland than with Ieshua, Frank asserts on page 3. That theory has potential merit, but from this writer's standpoint, a third possibility for leaving the Master in limbo rather than sending him to Heaven with Pilate is that Bulgakov made so many last minute corrections on his book he simply blew it, or somehow just installed his own personal touches based on where his head was at the moment of truth -- when the book had to end. Frank adds that the "lack of logically structured argument" in the book, and the "artistic untidiness" are certainly to be taken into consideration in attempting to resolve plot and character confusion. "The force of the book" is so strong, Frank comments on page 3, it outweighs the confusing outcome.


A restatement of the thesis -- that the power of brilliant narrative makes believers out of skeptics; that Bulgakov's novel within the novel brings the reader next to the author; and that Bulgakov's embrace of the crucifixion story is more believable than those versions found in the New Testament -- does not solve the mystery of why the Master fails to get to heaven. But one of the thesis ideas presented is that readers don't necessarily need to or want to have all the details wrapped up neatly in a bow at the end. Whether Bulgakov intended to leave loose ends, or whether he just figured it was time to quit, matters not. The story -- and the story within the story -- is power enough.

Works Cited

Bulgakov, Mikhail. (1967). The Master and Margarita. New York: Harper & Row.

Frank, Margot K. (1981). The Mystery of the Master's Final Destination. Canadian-American

Slavic Studies. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg. Vol. 159.

Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from Literature Resource Center.

McIntosh-Byrd, Tabitha. (2000). Overview of "The Master and Margarita." Novels for Students.

Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski and Deborah a. Stanley. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale. Retrieved From Literature Resource Center.

Pruitt, Donald B. (1981). St. John and Bulgakov: The Model of a Parody of Christ. Canadian-

American Slavic Studies 15(2-3) 312-320. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed.

Thomas J. Schoenberg. Vol. 159. Detroit: Gale Retrieved from Literature Resource Center.

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Bulgakov, Mikhail. (1967). The Master and Margarita. New York: Harper & Row.

Frank, Margot K. (1981). The Mystery of the Master's Final Destination. Canadian-American

Slavic Studies. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg. Vol. 159.

Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from Literature Resource Center.

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