The Master and Margarita: Bulgakov’s Use of Magic Realism
The Russian novel, Master and Margarita, was written in an environment of strict government control in early twentieth century, where even the presence of the manuscript in the author’s own house was something to fear. Bulgakov is believed to have burned the manuscript, only to re-write it later from memory. He must have felt a writer’s responsibility to record the historic issues that contradicted the country’s regime and atheistic religious stance.
In magic realism, many layers of reality and fiction are integrated within each other. It creates hybridity, a complex, parallel with multiple planes of reality, but still identifiable by the reader. As metafiction, it takes fantastical fiction and incorporates it so well into the real world that the reader sees logic and precision. The sense of mystery in magic realism also creates hidden meanings, magic, questions, and forces the reader to let go of pre-existing ties heightening the senses to reach more levels of reality. Magic realism draws attention to social-political statements, as in the novel The Master and Margarita.
Bulgakov uses the genre magic realism to overcome the censorship by the government by blending supernatural surreal and magical elements with the natural world using realistic narrative to enhance his message about what he believed to be the Soviet reality of the time.
Moscow is introduced to the readers with many magical and supernatural elements and events. It is Bulgakov’s way of portraying the chaotic and dramatic Moscow, with all the political changes it was going through, including revolutions, wars and the Great Famine. Daily routines in the lives of citizens were lost, and nothing was predictable. Magic realism allows the writer to exaggerate but at the same time, parallel the feeling and atmosphere of unpredictable change. When a delirious citizen drops from the ceiling, stripped of his clothing, suitcase in hand, his pathetic hopes to leave are mocked. This scene especially reflects the extent of instabilities and insecurities in the political climate, the suitcase ready for fleeing at a moment's notice.
Authorities at the time held absolute power, making them capable of strict censorship of any critique or ideas that contradicted that of the regime. Bulgakov’s magic realism addresses many issues in regard to the country’s economic, political or social conditions.
One such condition is the punishment characters in the novel receive when they demand an explanation to the supernatural events. The devil’s mischievous modus operandus is similar to that of the contemporary government. It only brings real harm to those who question or disobey it. This pattern can be seen in the devil’s actions. Arkady Apollonovich demands an explanation for the lady’s shop trick and is punished by Kroviewv by having his secret affair with an actress revealed in public. Varenukha, who was warned by Azellow not to deliver the telegram to authorities, disobeys and is beaten, then disappears. George Bengalsky who tries to explain away the money falling from the ceiling, has his head torn off by Behemoth but then it is magically put back on but the event causes him to go insane. Some escape, which was the case in the Soviet Union as well, such as Grigory Danilovich Rimsky, who escapes on a train after being frightened in his office by the now-vampire Varenukha. The devil and his companions are the fundamental supernatural beings throughout the novel who carry out the punishments, and who enable Bulgakov to make indirect connections and commentary on the political situation.
People both in the novel and in real life mysteriously disappear without a trace. There is a magical source of the “unknown” in the novel creating the sense of mystery, an element of magic realism. In a world full of magic, where no science, reason or natural laws will justify the outcome of an action,...