The Master and Margarita and Other Nonsensical Thoughts

by Yvy Truong

Okay, bare with me because I’m very sleepy right now and I’m trying here, okay? And we all know that if I can’t get all my thoughts in one post I’ll make another post like I usually do ┬áhahahaha

So today in Lecture, Miranda Burgess asked a question which really got my mind running, and I can’t remember the exact question but it was along the lines of: “In which ways does Bulgakov’s The Master and Maragrita respond to Stalinist Russia?”

“… if there is no God, then, one may ask, who governs human life and, in general, the whole order of things of earth?”

“Man governs it himself”

“Pardon me, but in order to govern one needs, after all, to have a precise plan for a certain, at least somewhat decent, length of time. Allow me to ask you, then, how can man govern, if he is not only deprived of the opportunity of making a plan for at least some ridiculously short period – well, say, a thousand years – but cannot even vouch for his own tomorrow? And in fact, imagine that you for some instance, start governing, giving orders to others and yourself, generally so to speak, acquire a taste for it, and suddenly you get . . . lung cancer . . . yes, cancer . . . and so your governing is over! You are no longer interested in anyone’s fate but your own. Your family starts lying to you. Feeling that something is wrong, you rush to learned doctors, then to quacks, and sometimes to fortune-tellers as well. Like the first, so the second and third are completely senseless as you understand. And it all ends tragically: a man who still recently thought he was governing something, suddenly winds up lying motionless in a wooden box, and the people around him, seeing that the man lying there is no longer good for anything, burn him in an oven . . . ” (Bulgakov, 13-14)


I really like this passage because there is lots to think about and be mindful of. First, concerning with the question as to how this passage might respond to Stalinist Russia, it poses the question of who governs us? Do we govern ourselves individually, do we have one person governing many others, or do we have a small group of people governing over the rest of the people? It’s an interesting question because during the time in Russia, like Miranda mentioned, that everyone around you could report what you do, where do you go, who you talk to, etc., etc.,

It also makes me think about the amount of control we have in our lives and what our role is. Perhaps we are subjects to fate or we could be subjects to a fate which someone else imposes on to us.

If I can remember correctly from History 12, the role of the Church and religion was lessened because Stalin wanted the focus to be less of fate and religion, and more of duty to ones country. And by Stalin being constantly involved in the public sphere, Stalin became almost like a comforting figure for fate. He replaced God.

So now I have to address this comment, does God govern us? Or does Man?

And in the case of Stalin, is he God or Man?

Now, I know this sounds ridiculous by question if Stalin is God but if we access Stalin’s role in Russia, it seems as if he is more than a political figure. He plays a larger role in which he is responsible to the well being and the future of the state.

But okay, how about this, what if we decide that Stalin is just a Man? And by following the passage in The Master and Margarita, could it then be concluded that, since Stalin is a Man, he could neither successfully govern himself nor Russia.

I’m too tired to write anything else but I think I will conclude with this poem.

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.