I first encountered Bulgakov’s masterpiece in a play. I was fairly young at the time, the cat Behemoth, a giant black cat walking on two legs stood out for me. Behemoth is fairly unpopular amongst his devilish gang, daringly Margarita does slap him in part two but I won’t give any spoilers. This cat perfectly sums up the absurdity portrayed by Bulgakov, because the book is absurd. The book is a political satire of Soviet Russia and takes place during the 30’s, which is also when it was written, yet it wasn’t published until the 60’s. After the death of Bulgakov, and the man causing the censorship, Stalin.
A satirical book?
Although the book never explicitly cast the Soviet Union aside, there are certain tells that are obvious for people who lived in the USSR. Something which becomes evidently clear with this is the writer’s society, MASSOLIT. These are writers who ‘accepted’ the soviet censorship and gave up their literary freedom to socially climb. This is at the core of Bulgakov, who never became a ‘successful’ writer whilst alive, ironically Bulgakov pleaded with Stalin to let him leave Soviet Russia, to be get his work produced. Stalin denied this, since there would be no use for a Russian writer outside his homeland. Stalin did fancy Bulgakov but could not permit his work to be published, this was a tragedy for Bulgakov. Hence, his literary attack on the MASSOLIT organization truly depicts Bulgakov’s distaste for them. Perhaps this is why Head of the literary bureaucracy MASSOLIT, Berlioz gets a gruesome death.
It is in the First book and the very first chapters you get familiar with the two settings of the book. Russia during the 30’s and the Jerusalem of Pontius Pilate, described by Professor Woland. This is a play on Christianity, the story is for those not familiar, the crucifixion of Jesus, who is Yeshua Ha-Notsri. Berlioz is having a conversation with a young Poet Ivan Ponyrev about atheism when suddenly a stranger arrives. This stranger you soon understand is the Devil, he makes the claims of when he met Jesus in his story about Pilates. Then the stranger makes a prediction about Berlioz decapitation. The exact events occur and confused Ponyrev whom witness the prediction and the realization of it. This causes him to go on a which hunt after the mysterious Woland, which ends in disaster.