The Master and Margarita by Michael Bulgakov

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Michael Bulgakov is one of Russia's most unusual literary figures. His books are infused with mysticism and, at times, are difficult to comprehend due to a complex plot thread. Furthermore, his novels feature unique protagonists who play their own roles in the story and live their own lives, making Bulgakov's novels interesting and fascinating. His best-known book, The Master and Margarita, is a multifaceted and multilayered work. The book is divided into two parts: the first is about the Master, and the action takes place in 1930s Moscow, and the second section, written by Master, describes events in ancient Jerusalem. The mediator between these two worlds is Woland. In fact, he is the engine of the plot: all the events in Moscow occur on his initiative and he introduces the story of Jesus Christ. Thesis: In Bulgakov's story, Woland balances the real and the unreal, good and evil and presents a world of fantasy, irony, doubt and denial. Moreover, his actions complicate readers’ understanding of the devil.

Role of Woland in the novel

The role of Woland in the novel is the role of the researcher. He studies the real world, in which his aim is to find, whether people of Moscow have changed. From the perspective of the observer Woland does not interfere with the natural course of events, does not organize the revolution and tries to set the Kingdom of justice. All the events happen through the combined efforts of many people, while the retinue of Woland provokes them. The part of Woland and his mission in Moscow is to conduct educational work with people, warning them about the future and demonstrating that evil can win and turn the life of people upside down. People react Woland’s warning and signs differently: Berlioz does not take them into account, Sokov goes to the doctor. Some people, such as Ivan Bezdomnyy, after their collision with the incomprehensible events, radically change their lives. However, the rest do not those find strange events frightening, so their lives keep on running in the same direction.

These actions, performed by Woland, complicate our understanding of the devil, whose major mission, as all people suppose, is doing harm. However, Woland tries to somehow prevent people from doing evil and harmful things. His lessons are some kind of precautions about possible dreadful outcomes, but people do not want to consider them. Bulgakov wanted to underline that Moscow people are so preoccupied with their wealth and desire to get it, that they simply forget about the existence of spiritual wealth and things that are more precious than money and fortune.

In addition to the attempts to pay people’s attention to more important values, Woland primarily tries to clarify the inner nature of the real world. It is interesting to note that no one, except master and Margarita recognizes Satan in Woland. Why? The reason is that a number of people does not simple assume the existence of anything supernatural in the world. Probably, this is the main reason of mass insanity caused by appearance of Woland in Moscow. The chain of insanity starts with Ivan Bezdomnyy. Then it goes further to other people. They are simply unable to realize the idea of the existence of the devil. However, if Satan exists, God must exist as well. Therefore, hell, created by Woland in Moscow of the 30s, is a way of proving the existence of God. This is another factor, complicating our understanding of Devil, which must hide people from God. However, Woland, on the contrary, tries to demonstrate that God exists and people must believe in him in order to find salvation. Although, the actions of Woland are destructive in their nature, they are forwarded to do good:

“… who are you, then?I am part of that power which eternally wills eviland eternally works good.” (Bulgakov 76).

These words demonstrate that Woland is not the source of evil and Satan, but the hidden source of good.

The character of Woland helps test our idea about the evil, until people come to see his place in a hierarchy, containing good: “What would your good do if evil didn’t exist,” he asks, “and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared?” (Bulgakov 36). Even though Bulgakov presents Woland as the major driving force of the chaos and death at the beginning of the novel, he is also the catalyst of justice, which we see in the final scenes of the novel. In order to give people the idea that it is impossible to perfectly divide good and evil, Bulgakov entitles Woland to decide the fates of the Master and Margarita through Jesus’s buzzing Apostle Levi Matvei. This is evidence, that the idea of evil is complicated, because in the novel, full of bureaucratic mortals, honesty is provided by the devil. Woland wants to underline that people forget how to differentiate good and bad, evil and good, Satan and God.

In addition to the lessons of morality, presented by Woland, Bulgakov uses his image not to demonstrate him as a carrier of universal evil; rather, he acknowledges that Woland administers justice. He punishes the vices: Likhodeev for drinking, Nicanor for bribery and whistle blowing and so on. More than that, the role of Woland is not just punishing for evil, but giving liberty to those, who suffered enough. Although, he decides who can be solved and helps them to be saved, it is possible to say that not everyone deserve salvation, as they perform too much evil in life and did much harm to people around them.

Relations between Woland and Jesus

In the novel there are two major forces, good and evil, that, according to Bulgakov, should be in the balance. These forces are embodied in the persons of Yeshua Ha-Notsri from Jerusalem, similar to Christ, and Woland, the Satan in human body. Apparently, Bulgakov shows that good and evil exist outside of time and thousands of people live by their laws. In order to prove it, he put Yeshua at the beginning of a new time, into a fictional masterpiece of the Master. Woland, who performs the function of the administrator of justice, is placed in Moscow of the 1930s. He came to Earth to restore harmony where it has been disrupted in favor of evil. As good and evil, Yeshua and Woland are intrinsically connected and cannot exist without each other, therefore, their relations are quite complicated in the novel. Pilate, who was sick and tired of evil, was saved by Woland, who demonstrated him the real value of good. Although, each action of Woland is a demonstration that evil and good are closely connected, this interrelation is demonstrated in the words of Woland, addressed to Levy Matvey:

“Kindly consider the question: what would your good do if evil did not exist, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it? Shadows are cast by objects and people. Here is the shadow of my sword. Trees and living beings also have shadows. Do you want to skin the whole earth, tearing all the trees and living things off it, because of your fantasy of enjoying bare light? You're a fool.” (Bulgakov 56).

These words prove that Woland understands that his mission is to teach people to do good; however, it is impossible unless they see the border between these two contrasting notions.


In Bulgakov's story, Woland balances the real and the unreal, good and evil and presents a world of fantasy, irony, doubt and denial. Moreover, his actions complicate readers’ understanding of the devil, whose mission is to harm people; however, Woland saves them and tries to teach to differentiate good and evil. Woland is an embodiment of evil, whose major mission is to do harm on the Earth, however, upon his arrival to Moscow, he see that this city is sank in evil. therefore, Woland changes his role and tries to save people.

Works Cited

Bulgakov, Michael. The Master and Margarita. NY: Grove/Atlantic, Inc. 2016.

January 25, 2023

Literature World


Literary Genres Europe

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Expertise Russia
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