Rational Versus Irrational in the Master and Margarita

Topics: The Master and Margarita, Pontius Pilate, Mikhail Bulgakov Pages: 6 (2153 words) Published: February 8, 2011
Ivan Shatsilenia
Erin Nicholson
Rational versus Irrational in The Master and Margarita In 2005 the movie adaptation of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita was released on Russian TV. According to Gallup Media, it was watched by 47.1 % of the total Russian TV audience and became a nation-wide spectacle. Why is The Master and Margarita still so popular? Regardless of its complexity, the novel is very entertaining, funny in places, and has the elements of a detective story. In Eastern Europe many people love Bulgakov’s text for his satire of Soviet bureaucracy, Communist ideology and everyday life. Another aspect that fuels the interest in the novel is that it allows for varied interpretations. The novel consists of three closely related stories. The first story focuses on Woland (a prototype of devil) who visits Moscow of 1930s and together with his companions creates havoc in the city. The second story is about the Master, an artist, and his beloved Margarita who inspires him to write a genius novel about Pontius Pilate. After Soviet censorship rejected the Master’s novel, and under the attacks of corrupted critics, he burns his manuscripts and ends up in psychiatric hospital. Margarita makes a pact with devil and saves him. The third story is the Master’s narration of the Crucifixion of Yeshua (a symbol of Christ). It is the novel inside the novel and reaches the reader indirectly through the dialogues and dreams of the characters. Some critics attempted to explain the meaning of The Master and Margarita by exploring the influences of Faust by Goethe, Graph Monte-Cristo by Dumas, Gofman’s and others’ works. The others based their arguments on the relation of the novel to the New Testament or based on the scrutiny of Bulgakov’s biography. These are attempts to interpret the novel based on rational judgments; however, Bulgakov rejects such methods within the text in The Master and Margarita thereby implying that the novel must be interpreted idealistically. The Bulgakov’s epigraph to the novel cites Goethe’s Faust: “'... who are you, then?' 'I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good'” (Bulgakov 16). The contradiction of “that power” which is able to do evil but eternally does otherwise implies the rejection of rationalism and invites the reader to perceive the novel idealistically. At the same time, Bulgakov sets the false track for those critics who are stuck with their obsessive rationalism and, especially, atheism - the most extreme form of rationalism. Berlioz, whom Bulgakov introduces in the first chapter, is a prototype of those critics. Berlioz is having a conversation with the poet Ivan Homeless (his literary pseudonym) about the poem that the latter wrote. Homeless misunderstands Berlioz who commissioned the work portraying Jesus “in very dark colors” while Berlioz wants the poem to show that Jesus never existed. He proves it to Homeless logically trying to make an impression that he knows the history well. However, Berlioz, as Bulgakov points with sarcasm, only “skillfully pointed to ancient historians” but does know what their ideas mean. He is not concerned about the truth but uses all means to manipulate Homeless, a prototype of future artists who have a choice: to accept the role of a puppet of official ideology and not to be concerned about the truth or to stay alert and be able to distinguish the genuine ideas from ignorant and distorting propaganda. When Woland joins their conversation he asks Berlioz’s opinion on five proofs of God’s existence. Berlioz says:”’…in the realm of reason there can be no proof of God's existence’” (Bulgakov 21). Woland sarcastically exclaims “'Bravo! You have perfectly repeated restless old Immanuel's thought in this regard’” (Bulgakov 21). He refers to the philosopher Kant to sarcastically show the ridiculousness of Berlioz’s approach which applies the rules of reasoning to the matters of spirit:...
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