Good Queen Margot

Five (seven) questions on The Master and Margarita.

1. Why is the book organized the way it is? (split narration, different stories)

2. Why is Margarita’s second wish (rather than the first) for the Master? (282-284)

3. Archibald Archibaldovich appears once to bail Koroviev and Behemoth out, and then promptly sets the building they were in on fire. What purpose does he serve? (354-358)

4. Why does the novel end with an epilogue? The rest of the book, as novels usually do, shows what happens. The epilogue is a shift to telling. Why does Bulgakov do this?

5. When Margarita’s husband leaves for a business trip, “no one could prevent her from thinking what she like or dreaming what she liked” (220). What prevents her from doing that when anyone else is around? What does that say about what her married life is like?


I wrote these five before today’s (Wednesday’s) seminar. Here are two more that came up today:


6. Why don’t Margarita and her husband have any children?

7. Why doesn’t the master have a name while Margarita does?


what the devil

So, before I go rambling on:
1. be ready for the rambling. prepare yourself. buckle down. close this tab. whichever.
2. know that I didn’t finish the book. As I write this, I mean. I have a lot more to go. I probably won’t be finished until Friday. Just so you’re aware.
3. I tend to focus on the little things, which is something you’l notice as this post goes on. This is mostly because I haven’t finished the book yet, ha.

Before I read the books on our lovely, long list I usually read a summary of them first. Just to make sure I’m getting the gist of things in terms of theme and other rhetorical blah blah. That being said, here’s what the summaries I read told me about The Master and Margarita.

There are several things at play. Bulgakov weaves in satire and realism, art and religion, and history and contemporary social values. The lecture on Monday gave me a ton of helpful context to better understand the little pieces Bulgakov gives that relate to the Russian society he was living in. There are also three story lines. There’s that of Professor Woland, his assistants, and their shenanigans. (I just used the word shenanigans, what is going on?) That of the Master and his Margarita. And the story of Pontius Pilate and Yeshua. It wasn’t until lecture that I learned that Pilate’s story goes through several reworkings, a fact I find extremely important and interesting, and something I’ll probably read later. Anyway, before I started reading I learned that Pilate’s story would connect the two stories of Professor Woland and the Master. This is probably one of the more interesting aspects of the novel for me. And probably a cool discussion point too; just in terms of how the story of Pilate connects the two, why, the dynamics of each story and how they reflect each other, and so on and so forth.

In all seriousness I can probably realistically blog with full awareness and understanding about the first ten chapters. Excuse me while I weep with self-pity. I shall, however, finish this cursedly thick thing. And learn to love it. Or understand it, at least. It’s interesting so far, I’ll give it that.

Here are some things I picked up as I read. Some of them I tossed around. Some of them were actually relevant. Some of them I had to ditch as I went on because they turned out to not mean what I thought they did.

  • Case in point: the devil’s glinting eye. In his retelling of Pilate’s story Kaifa’s eyes flash and later when the devil finishes the story he says he was there. I briefly entertained the notion that the eye flashing was connected and that the devil was Kaifa (which would have been crazy interesting, btw). Alas, it was not meant to be. So I ditched that observation.

Now for the more promising observations.

  • At first the constant mentioning of “to the devil” and “what the devil” and “how the devil” around said devil was amusing for me. I mean, it still is amusing, but I’m starting to notice that it has more meaning. At first I thought it was Bulgakov throwing in some more irony. But then I started thinking about speech and the power of word and its relation to action (calling back to Antigone anyone?). Much of the pivotal moments in terms of action in this novel start as forms of speech. People seem to invoke the devil just by thinking about him or saying “devil.” Speech and power are related! Eureka! *commence fervid discussion*
  • Will someone please tell me if there’s a symbolism in the sparrow because that blasted little bird keeps showing up and I don’t know much about the spiritual meaning of sparrows. So I kind of just notice it and go “what are you doing here” and keep reading. But it shows up in Pilate’s story and it flies again in The Seventh Proof on page 44. What are you doing in this novel little bird?
  • Another nature element I’m curious about! The sun. And with that comes of course: shadow, light, being blinded and so on. I mostly noticed it in Pilate’s story when Yeshua shied away from the sunlight as it got closer to his feet. What was that about? And then Pilate, who seems to be eternally bothered by his headaches and the heat and then he gets blinded by the sun and guilt and wow, Pilate’s life really sucks doesn’t it? And let’s not forget that moment when Kaifa’s shadow “shrunk to nothing by the lion’s tail” on page 37. Just how small is by the lion’s tail anyway? And my goodness sun, what are you up to?
  • Tiny side note in relation to the sun. There’s an east/west dynamic at play here and I remember reading it, but didn’t mark the page. Story of my life, ugh.
  • Other tiny side note! The diamond triangle? What is that supposed to look like? The first thing that popped up in my head was a Delta. It most likely does not look like a Delta. But it shows up twice in relation to the devil. Is it his symbol or? (I just google imaged it – it does not really look like a Delta, but I’m not entirely crazy because Deltas are, in fact, triangles.

Now onto the little things I pondered about as I read.

  • Ivan and Misha/Mikhail react very differently to the devil. This probably has to do with the fact that Mikhail sees the checkered man before the devil shows up and Ivan does not. But there has to be something else, right? Something I/we don’t necessarily know? What is clear, however, is that their relationship and how the devil affects their lives is connected to this. This then ties in to all the notes I scribbled around how the devil spoke (key word SPOKE) about Mikhail’s death, predicted it and all, and how he implored Mikhail right before he dashed off to believe in the devil. Would Mikhail not have died if he did?
  • This is also the point where I have to say how much you can pull out of Pilate’s story just from the first telling. The things brought up, the relationships that you could dissect! Oh, it’s like candy. But it also needs time. And I should probably read the retellings of Pilate’s story further in the book. So we’ll save that for another blog post.
  • Tiny question: is the seventh proof the devil’s proof? seriously, whose proof is it?
  • When the devil said that he was alone and always alone on page 43 I couldn’t help but wonder about Doctor Faustus there. In Faustus those who pledge their souls to the devil can’t have real lovers or partners, marriages and the like – only concubines and meaningless flings that fill pleasure and distract. Nothing wholehearted and such. Interesting and relevant since this novel is seen as a retelling of the Faust legend. Moving on.
  • My interest in how the sun is mentioned throughout the novel comes in again on the last page of The Seventh Proof. Berlioz sees a “gold-tinged moon” just as he died and I couldn’t help but think of how that would appear like a drained sun in terms of color. And what does it mean to see the sun or the moon? Then there’s the passing of hours and time in the novel. I haven’t really noted each one but eleven kept popping up for a few consecutive chapters so it’s probably something I’ll keep in the back of my mind.
  • I also couldn’t help but relate Ivan’s chase of the professor to be much like that of Polyphemus and Oedipus. Ivan keeps imploring people to find the consultant and send guns after him and catch him, but he seriously forgets that no one knows who the consultant is or what he looks like. So Ivan now has the pleasure of being Polyphemus in my head as he tries to send anyone who will listen to him after Nobody, resulting in people thinking he’s crazy.
  • Oh, and can someone please clear up what happened to Riukhin in the last pages of Schizophrenia, As Was Said because after he says “devil take them!” some really weird stuff starts happening and I’m not sure if I should read into it or not.
  • In the disappearances of the naughty apartment there are technically eight or nine of them. I don’t count Berlioz because he died, he didn’t disappear in the way the rest of them did. And I’m not sure if I should count Grunya because the devil admits to sending her on vacation. The number of disappearances probably isn’t as important as the fact that they’re happening so this point is really just a random musing. Carry on.

Right, okay. I just realized I ran out of observations.
So I wish this could be more cohesive, but it really isn’t. Read the book, self, then it will be.
Thank goodness I don’t have to come up with direct questions just yet. I hope this wasn’t too all over the place if you managed to get all the way to the end without thinking I was a bit insane or something. Let it be noted that I did not proof read this blog post because I’m about to rush off to dinner.
I’m leaving for Walk the Moon in a little over an hour so I wanted to get this typed out and up. Me going to a concert also means I will not be fully functional tomorrow. Oh joy.