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

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Showing Revision 3 created 05/24/2019 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
    of Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece,

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

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

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

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

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

  65. to the diabolical company’s escapades–
  66. and carries the story to
    its surreal climax.
  67. Despite its dark humor and
    complex structure,

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