Monday, October 31, 2016

Master and Margaritalong V: Wrapup

It's the final installment of The Master and Margarita!  What will be their fate?

Margarita and the master are installed in their old home and feeling peaceful, but they're the only ones.  Moscow authorities are in an uproar over all the outrages of the last couple of days.  The theater has had to be shut down because practically the entire staff has disappeared.  Police visit Berlioz' apartment...and find nothing.  There is no record of Woland anywhere, so how did all this happen?  It must have all been a lot of nonsense and hysteria induced by a gang, and everything is rationalized away by the authorities (who didn't meet Woland) as they find and question every victim.  The only thing that puzzles them is why everyone seems to want "to be hidden in a bulletproof room with an armed guard."

Woland and company are still in the apartment, but not for long; they're packing up.  Behemoth and Koroviev go on a farewell rampage in Moscow, causing mayhem everywhere they go and setting fire to a whole lot of buildings.  Woland and Azazello watch from a balcony, where they're visited by Matthew Levi bearing a message, apparently from heaven.  Woland is to take the master and Margarita with him and give them peace.
"But why don't you take him with you into the light?"
"He does not deserve the light, he deserves peace," Levi said in a sorrowful voice.
The master and Margarita are discussing their situation--the master feels that he is a broken man, while Margarita is happy and confident in her witchiness--when Azazello arrives to take them away.  He poisons them, arranges for their deaths to be visible in their proper places, and (now that they are free) takes them on a ride to Woland, stopping to visit poor Ivan Homeless and say goodbye.  We say a farewell to Moscow, the demons show themselves in their true forms, and Woland shows Pontius Pilate to the master.  Pilate has been stuck in a sort of limbo for two millennia, but the master sets him free to follow Ha-Nozri as he wished.  Master and Margarita get their eternal home--a little house together.

An epilogue describes the aftermath for all the other characters, including Pilate.  And we finish with the last line of the master's novel: the cruel fifth procurator of Judea, the equestrian Pontius Pilate.

Bulgakov certainly identified himself with the master, and evidently with Pilate too.  Interesting that Pilate eventually gets to go to heaven (?), but the master "doesn't deserve the light."  It's repeated many times that cowardice is the worst of all sins--Bulgakov believed it was the source of all vices, whereas orthodox Christian theology would say that pride holds that place--and the master and Pilate are both guilty of it.  Bulgakov felt himself guilty of cowardice too, by cooperating with the Soviet machine   The master is a shadow sort of man, broken by his unmentioned months in prison, and I suppose Bulgakov felt himself to be so as well, in his own way.

Most people in this readalong didn't like the Pilate chapters at all, and certainly they don't have the action and interest of the Moscow story, but they're clearly important to Bulgakov and the structure of his story.  In some way, the Pilate book is real.  Woland showed Ivan a historical vision that was also the book; Pilate has been stuck for 2000 years; Matthew Levi speaks with Woland.  Did the master write reality?  Did he have some sort of vision that showed him real things?  Did he create them somehow through his writing?  It's all very meta.  And our novel ends with the words the master used for his novel.  I don't know what they're supposed to mean, but the sheer repetition gives them weight and a feeling of significance.

This is my THIRD time reading this fantastic weirdo book.  I hope everybody had as much fun as I did.  If YOU have never read it, you should!

Don't talk to strangers.
I'm a little late writing this post--I meant to do it last night--so now I'm seeing other people's readalong wrapups.  Everybody hates Russian literature but me, evidently.  Well, you can take my Russians out of my cold dead hands, people!  Bulgakov is awesome!  I'm just going to sit over here with my Gogol and my Tolstoy and sulk, while admiring the fact that this sign is still to be found at Patriarch's Ponds, where the story begins and ends.


Red said...

I am glad you were here on this readalong journey to help try and make sense of things for us newbies. While I can't say I enjoyed the book I did have a lot of fun with this. And I do love that sign that's up in the park.

Ekaterina Egorova said...

The way I was introduced to the novel we were on a school trip to Moscow, and our history teacher brought us close to this very sigh at the Ponds and read us the first chapter aloud while the sun was setting over Moscow. It was awesome. I'm very glad you love this book so much, although I wouldn't expect anything else from you) First time I read it I was also impatiently flipping through the Pilate chapters, but during the second read, in a hopefully more mature age I found them totally transfixing and a very important part of the story.

Anonymous said...

I am sooooo glad you were part of this readalong, because I get that I am nowhere near the target audience for this book, and it was great to have the perspective of someone who found it, ah, less irritatingly opaque than I did. I just cannot get on with Russian literature, but I keep trying as if something's going to change one day. (Maybe it will!)

cleopatra said...

Well, you're not alone, Jean, because I love Russian literature too. It takes some work to get our Western heads around their Eastern way of thinking, but it's totally worth it. I'm reading Dostoyevsky now and it's difficult too but I'm learning so much.

I agree that the Pilate parts were instrumental to the novel. I can't wait to read it again someday!

Jean said...

Ekaterina! That's so cool! I am envious.

Nancy Leek said...

BTW, Bulgakov wrote another great story called The Heart of a Dog. It's shorter and easier to read than M&M, and satirizes the New Soviet Man.

Chris bookarama said...

My issue is I'm not a big fan of magical realism. I feel like I'm being talked around instead of to, if that makes sense. I like weird if I feel that I'm in on it. Tolstoy is all right.

I'm glad you love this book. Seems like a lot of people do. I'm trying to figure out how I really feel about it.

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Jean, I have enjoyed reading your description of the book along the way, not having read it myself. It is obviously an extraordinary work of art.

Reading Rambo said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR ALL YOUR INSIGHT. It's made me appreciate it all more. I feel like if I ever re-read M&M I'm going to need to do allllllllll the research to 'get' what Bulgakov is doing. So I'm even more impressed that you like it so much and seem to know so much about eeet.

Phinnea Ravenscroft said...

You are not alone. I, too, love Russian literature, though Turgenev didn't do it for me, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Pushkin all great. I certainly don't think anyone should judge all Russian lit on this book as it's way different.

Also, not sure about your translation. The equestrian Pontius Pilate?? That makes no sense to me. Mine has knight which I like because it combines serving a king with a chess reference. But perhaps I'm missing something.