Satan–the good guy
Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita has been a thoroughly enjoying read. My decoding skills, however, failed me on more than one occasion. Margarita does not, in fact, represent Faust’s Gretchen. Margarita and the Master are literary figures unto themselves, perhaps most closely modeled on the author himself and his (third?) wife, the one who devoted herself slavishly to his brilliance. Gretchen does appear in the novel, however. At Satan’s Ball, Margarita learns that Frieda’s eternal torment is to awaken each morning to a fresh, blue-trimmed handkerchief on her nightstand–the same handkerchief she used to suffocate her newborn babe, thereby damning herself to hell. Margarita cannot redeem the Gretchen figure, but she can ease her eternal torment by insisting that Satan’s minions not torture her with a fresh cloth each morning.
Satan and his entourage continue their assault on Moscow in the second half of the novel. Things burn. Shops burn. Apartments burn. Corpses burn. People are driven mad and the authorities are driven to distraction.
The novel itself is something of a Chinese box, with Bulgakov’s narrative encapsulating the narrative on Pontius Pilate written by the Master. It is, in fact, the Master’s tale of Pontius Pilate and his suffering, torment, and regret at having issued the execution order for Yeshua/Jesus that creates the interpretive framework of the novel. Through what action or inaction, through what faith or incredulity are we redeemed? Is redemption possible or even worthy of our envy?
The Master, a Christ figure, finds his peace at the end of the novel through Woland/Satan’s work. He has earned peace, claims a disciple of the Lord, though he has not earned “the light,” and at Yeshua’s request Woland grants the Master his peace. His peace, however, does not equal his redemption, but rather represents his just reward for suffering. And, just as the Master and Margarita find their peace in a bucolic home set in some sort of eternal 18th century, Pontius Pilate is released by Woland and the Master to follow the moonbeams and carry on his discussion of faith and virtue with Yeshua.
They are not redeemed, they are released.