Can someone explain The Master and Margarita to me?

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Can someone explain The Master and Margarita to me?

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1lobotomy42
Jul 26, 2016, 10:53am

So I just finished The Master and Margarita, which everyone has been telling me to read for as long as I've been dabbling in Russian lit. But I think a lot of it must have gone over my head. The Soviet satire was clever and often funny, particularly the enormous efforts put in by various apparatchiks to recast all spiritual or supernatural events in strict materialist terms. But I think a lot of the Pilate and Faust stuff went right over my head. (I have not read Faust, should I?) I keep reading that this book has "philosophical themes" and deals with "the relationship between good and evil" but boy did I miss those in my reading.

So, what are the clues I should have noticed when reading the book? What is the significance of Woland's ball? Why is the Master being rewarded? Why did Pilate kill Judas?

I would love some hints to get me started on answering these questions, but would also love to hear your fuller explanations!

2languagehat
Jul 27, 2016, 10:27am

Here's a longish but not technical/scholarly discussion that may help orient you:
http://jim-murdoch.blogspot.com/2009/10/master-and-margarita.html

But your question is kind of like saying "I just finished reading the Bible and I think I missed a lot -- what should I know?" I mean, The Master and Margarita is one of the most-discussed novels in Russian literature; there are shelves and shelves of books and articles discussing it, so you shouldn't expect a satisfying explanation here! This site might get you started if you want to dig in:

http://cr.middlebury.edu/bulgakov/public_html/biblio.html

3kaggsy
Jul 27, 2016, 11:41am

It's certainly a very deep and involved book - I've read it twice and I bet I'll get even more out of it on my next read.

4lobotomy42
Jul 29, 2016, 11:34am

Those links are exactly the sort of thing I was looking for, thanks!

5john257hopper
Editado: Jul 29, 2016, 3:04pm

I managed to get about two thirds of the way through it some seven years ago before giving up. It goes over my head too, though I am very well read in non-fiction books on the Soviet era, so would hope to have grasped more of its significance.

6WordMaven
Jul 31, 2016, 1:37pm

>Lobotomy42 I just finished reading The Master and Margarita. Took me 2 months to finish it. It was my first time reading it but I'd like to re-read it at some point. I enjoyed it over all. I kept thinking "Man, this book is a trip! It's like a Fellini film!" I didn't expect that at all. There is so much depth there and without a cultural and historical context, I don't know if I can fully get what all is being said in the novel. With that in mind, I decided to just enjoy myself and I did. In the right hands, it would make a great film or even a great graphic novel, what with all the wild visuals!

I do know the Bible, though, and I think that Mikhail Bulgakov was making statements about religious persecution, although I don't know enough to say more than that.

This is definitely not a book that one can understand in the first go-round. I'd imagine there are rooms filled with Ph.D. theses on this title, so I give myself a break. Also, I find that difficult books such as this are best read with a group of people so you get a wider variety of opinions, information, and observations.

The Russian novels are great for we (us?) obsessive types. That suits me right down to the ground.

7kaggsy
Jul 31, 2016, 3:27pm

I read parallels between the religious persecution and what was happening to Soviet citizens at the time. But that's just one element. There is the figure of the persecuted Master standing for Bulgakov himself; Margarita representing his third wife Elena. Then there's the satire aimed at proletarian writers and Socialist realism. And so on... It's a book that warrants endless study and plenty of re-reads!

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