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← Why should you read "The Master and Margarita"? - Alex Gendler

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Showing Revision 6 created 01/10/2020 by lauren mcalpine .

  1. The Devil has come to town.
  2. But don’t worry –
    all he wants to do is stage a magic show.
  3. This absurd premise
    forms the central plot

  4. of Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece,
    "The Master and Margarita."
  5. Written in Moscow during the 1930s,
  6. this surreal blend
    of political satire, historical fiction,
  7. and occult mysticism
  8. has earned a legacy as one
    of the 20th century’s greatest novels–
  9. and one of its strangest.
  10. The story begins
    when a meeting between two members

  11. of Moscow’s literary elite
  12. is interrupted by a strange gentleman
    named Woland,
  13. who presents himself as a foreign scholar
  14. invited to give a presentation
    on black magic.
  15. As the stranger engages the two companions
    in a philosophical debate
  16. and makes ominous predictions
    about their fates,
  17. the reader is suddenly transported
    to 1st century Jerusalem.
  18. There a tormented Pontius Pilate
  19. reluctantly sentences
    Jesus of Nazareth to death.
  20. With the narrative
    shifting between the two settings,
  21. Woland and his entourage–
    Azazello, Koroviev, Hella,
  22. and a giant cat named Behemoth–
  23. are seen to have uncanny magical powers,
  24. which they use to stage their performance
  25. while leaving a trail
    of havoc and confusion in their wake.
  26. Much of the novel’s dark humor
    comes not only from this demonic mischief,

  27. but also the backdrop
    against which it occurs.
  28. Bulgakov’s story takes place
    in the same setting where it was written–
  29. the USSR
    at the height of the Stalinist period.
  30. There, artists and authors
    worked under strict censorship,
  31. subject to imprisonment,
    exile, or execution
  32. if they were seen
    as undermining state ideology.
  33. Even when approved, their work–
  34. along with housing, travel,
    and everything else–
  35. was governed by a convoluted bureaucracy.
  36. In the novel,
  37. Woland manipulates this system
    along with the fabric of reality,
  38. to hilarious results.
  39. As heads are separated from bodies
    and money rains from the sky,
  40. the citizens of Moscow
    react with petty-self interest,
  41. illustrating how Soviet society
    bred greed and cynicism
  42. despite its ideals.
  43. And the matter-of-fact narration
  44. deliberately blends
    the strangeness of the supernatural events
  45. with the everyday absurdity
    of Soviet life.
  46. So how did Bulgakov
    manage to publish such a subversive novel

  47. under an oppressive regime?
  48. Well… he didn’t.
  49. He worked on "The Master and Margarita"
    for over ten years.
  50. But while Stalin’s personal favor
  51. may have kept Bulgakov
    safe from severe persecution,
  52. many of his plays and writings
    were kept from production,
  53. leaving him safe but effectively silenced.
  54. Upon the author’s death in 1940,
  55. the manuscript remained unpublished.
  56. A censored version
    was eventually printed in the 1960s,
  57. while copies of the unabridged manuscript
  58. continued to circulate
    among underground literary circles.
  59. The full text was only published in 1973,
  60. over 30 years after its completion.
  61. Bulgakov’s experiences
    with censorship and artistic frustration

  62. lend an autobiographical air
    to the second part of the novel,
  63. when we are finally
    introduced to its namesake.
  64. "The Master" is a nameless author
    who’s worked for years on a novel
  65. but burned the manuscript
    after it was rejected by publishers–
  66. just as Bulgakov
    had done with his own work.
  67. Yet the true protagonist
    is the Master’s mistress Margarita.
  68. Her devotion
    to her lover’s abandoned dream

  69. bears a strange connection
    to the diabolical company’s escapades–
  70. and carries the story
    to its surreal climax.
  71. Despite its dark humor
    and complex structure,

  72. "The Master and Margarita"
    is, at its heart,
  73. a meditation on art, love, and redemption,
  74. that never loses itself in cynicism.
  75. And the book’s long overdue publication
    and survival against the odds
  76. is a testament
    to what Woland tells the Master:
  77. “Manuscripts don’t burn.”