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The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov - A review.

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Introduction

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov A review Set in Moscow during the darkest period of Stalin's regime, in the 1930s after the Russian Revolution, The Master and Margarita is a piece of literary alchemy. It is a fusion of Geothe's Faust, fragments of autobiography, an alternative version of the crucifixion of Christ, a tale of political repression and a meditation on the role of an artist in a society bereft of freedom and individuality. The book does not have a readily describable plot as the narrative structure is intricate and complex, with several stories nestled in one; inside one narrative there is another, and then another, and yet another. The Master and Margarita begins by inter-weaving two apparently unconnected tales and later introduces a third which unites the other two narratives at the end. The first narrative concerns a visit to Moscow (1930) by the devil in the disguise as a professor of black magic, Professor Woland. Woland and his infernal retinue, including a hit man with appalling dress sense Koroviev, a vampire maid, Hella and a six foot black cat, Behemoth who walks on his hind legs, drinks vodka and eats caviar, wreck havoc and chaos in Moscow. They upset the literary world of Moscow and disrupt the life of ordinary Muscovites by putting up a black magic show. In the magic show, Woland showers the audience with tempting gifts of money which later changes to strips of paper and tempts the ladies with Parisian gowns and shoes which later disappear. ...read more.

Middle

The recurring motif of betrayal seems to reflect Bulgakov's doubts about his own artistic integrity and the strength of his artistic will. So the theme of betrayal and redemption in The Master and Margarita seems to be rooted in Bulgakov's coming to terms with the compromises he'd made to ensure his artistic expression. The Master and Margarita does not just protest against Socialist realism, it voices a disgusted mockery of the attempts by the Soviet authorities to control art and the attempts to define what art is and the role of art. Bulgakov mocks the blind conformity of the Muscovites to the ideals pre-packaged by the Soviet spin doctors. When Woland and his retinue visit Moscow, the grimmest and most hilarious fates are reserved for the hypocrites, of the city's theatrical and literary establishment, the writers of "acceptable" literature. Early in the book, Berlioz, chairman of the MASSOLIT literary association is spectacularly decapitated by a tram and Latunsky the literary critic who publicly criticized the Master's novel has his apartment ruined by Margarita in revenge and one by one, the prominent figures in society are driven insane or publicly humiliated. One can almost detect a certain tone of relish as Bulgakov describes the hilarious bizarre fates that Woland and his gang deal to these prominent figures who conform to the authorities. The Master and the Margarita makes a bold statement about the ability of literature to endure throughout the ages. The Master's novel, despite mockery, persecution and rejection gains everlasting life that can endure even the test of fire. ...read more.

Conclusion

Human nature is also mocked when Woland and his gang wreck havoc in the streets of Moscow. He takes joy at seeing Muscovites at their weakness. He knows that money and possessions will appeal to them and they play right into his hands by making fools of themselves to acquire these worthless things. He makes a mockery of all that man desire in life as the material processions disappear into nothing. He shows that money and processions are of no real value, they are what the foolish, greedy and shallow minded care about. Only art and love are eternal. The love that the Master and Margarita have is so strong that they transcend the sometimes absurd world of politics and corruption, not to heaven, but to a world of two. Thus in conclusion, The Master and Margarita shows just how important freedom and individuality are and the power of literature to surpass any human attempts to control it. It concludes that blind conformity to any notion or ideal is the ultimate evil. Arenberg states that "the Master demonstrates that each man's salvation lies within himself" and that "Bulgakov recognized that men follow the path of least resistance, denying their own imaginative capabilities in favour of institutionalised ideologies, organized religion and conventional morality". The book serves as a monument to all courageous authors who in Salman Rushdie's words "attempt radical reformations of language, form and ideas, those that attempt to do what the word 'novel' seems to insist on: to see the world anew." ...read more.

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