Back at the clinic, Ivan watches as the man who knocked on his window (a.k.a. the master) comes in. This man is clean-shaven and in his late thirties, also a patient. He sits down, explaining that he has a set of keys that he stole from the nurse. Ivan asks why he doesn’t escape; the man replies that he has “nowhere to escape to.”
This man is the master. Once more Bulgakov uses the technique of delaying letting the reader know a character’s identity. The title suggests there is something courageous about the master, which the reader will learn later on. The master’s comment reveals that he has, in a sense, given up on life in the Soviet Union.
The master asks Ivan who he is. When Ivan says that he is a poet, the guest makes him promise never to write again; Ivan, with a newfound appreciation of how bad his poems are, agrees. The nurse looks in on the room, causing the man to hide briefly on the balcony.
The master’s comment is not as flippant as it might seem. Essentially, if Ivan is a published poem under the Soviet regime—that is, if his poems got past the censors—they must be inauthentic and bad. Ivan, to his credit, swiftly agrees.
Coming back in, the master tells Ivan of a new arrival at the clinic: a fat man (Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy) who keeps talking about “currency in the ventilation.” He then asks Ivan to tell him what caused him to be committed to the clinic. At the mention of Pontius Pilate, the guest is astonished at the “staggering coincidence.” He listens patiently to Ivan’s story, not for a moment thinking that he is a “madman.”
The new arrival is Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy, the chairman of the tenants’ association seen in chapter 9. Nikanor is protesting his innocence but is guilty of accepting a bribe and abusing his position. It is in this chapter that Bulgakov starts to connect the Moscow and Yershalaim narratives.
At Ivan’s conclusion, the man puts his hands together “prayerfully,” saying “Oh, how I guessed it! How I guessed it all!” Hearing of Berlioz’s grim death, the man says he wishes it had been the critic “Latunsky.” He tells Ivan that he has been “unlucky,” but that he “oughtn’t to have behaved so casually and impertinently.” Furthermore, says the guest, Ivan should be grateful—he got off lightly.
The master’s semi-religious gesture suggests his belief in Woland’s true identity as Satan. Bulgakov also hints at part of the master’s back story—his treatment by critics.
Ivan begs the master to tell him the identity of the strange professor. Making Ivan promise not to get upset, the guest tells him that yesterday Ivan met “Satan.” He expresses surprise that Berlioz, being a learned man, didn’t realize. On the other hand, says the man, Woland is “capable of pulling the wool over the eyes of an even shrewder man.”
The master’s revelation also marks the point that the reader receives confirmation of Woland’s true identity. He also highlights Berlioz’s naivety in being so steadfastly sure that Woland was a madman. But, as the master intimates, Woland has the capability to fool practically anyone.
If the devil has truly come to Moscow, asks Ivan, shouldn’t someone “catch him?” The master says he wishes that he had met Woland, and he’d gladly give up the last thing he has—the clinic keys—to do so. Ivan asks why. After a long pause, the guest tells Ivan that the both of them are in the clinic for the same reason: “namely, on account of Pontius Pilate.” A year ago, he explains, he wrote a novel about Pilate; when Ivan asks him if he is a writer, the man replies that he is a “master.” He has renounced everything, including his name.
The master would have liked to have been in Ivan’s place, but not to prevent “evil” coming to Moscow—that’s not how the master sees Woland. Instead, the master shows the attitude of a true artist, ever inquisitive and committed to his subject (even though he has retreated to the confines of the clinic). This passage also marks the first mention of Margarita—though, again, not by name. The master’s refusal even to name himself plays on the idea of official and unofficial identity; the master has chosen to forego his.
The master proceeds to tell Ivan his story. He was a historian by education and speaks many languages. He won a hundred thousand roubles with a “state bond” and decided to leave his museum work and write a novel about Pontius Pilate. The writing was going well, and he already knew that the last words of the book would be “…the fifth procurator of Judea, the equestrian Pontius Pilate.”
The master won the Soviet equivalent of the lottery and decided to use it to facilitate the writing of his novel—rather than what some of the Griboedov writers might have done: spent it on luxurious food and trips away. Here, Bulgakov also hints at the novel’s ending.
The master would frequently take walks during his breaks from writing. On one of these, he astonished by the sight of a woman carrying “repulsive” yellow flowers, “struck not so much by her beauty as by an extraordinary loneliness in her eyes.” He followed her, until she stopped down an alley and asked him if he liked her flowers. As he said “no,” says the master, he realized “that all my life I had loved precisely this woman!”
Here begins the reader’s experience of the love between the master and Margarita, which ultimately is the momentum that carries the book through. Her “loneliness” represents the fact the she was suffering from a paradoxical kind of loss—that she was yet to meet her true love. Bulgakov wants to suggest that there is still some kind of hope to be found, even in the dire situation of the Soviet Union. The flowers hint at Spring, carrying connotations of renewal and vitality (even if not to the master’s taste). Margarita’s own involvement in the novel is still to come, like flowers waiting to bloom.
The master continues tearfully: “love leaped out in front of us like a murderer in an alley leaping out of nowhere, and struck us both at once. As lightning strikes, as a Finnish knife strikes!” The woman later told him that she would have poisoned herself that day, if it wasn’t for meeting him. Both of them were married to other people, but the woman became his “secret wife.”
The master and his lover spent all the time they could together. The woman was very supportive of his writing, believing it to be of great importance. The master describes finishing the novel and having to “leave his secret refuge and go out into life.” Ivan notices that his black cap is embroidered with a yellow “M.”
The master and Margarita thus represent the first two characters to show any concern for the authenticity of art, and its role in society. His cap links him to Woland, whose business card showed the inverse sign: “W.” This is more intended to show that they are linked characters, rather than that they represent opposites.
The master tells of his horror at the literary world he then had to enter. His editor asked him “idiotic questions” and passed the novel on to the other members of the editorial board to decide whether it should be published.
The master showed courage and naivety by even attempting to get his novel published; as the reader has already seen, any writing on Yeshua and Pilate is bound to be inherently critical of state authority.
The master, becoming increasingly agitated and confused, recounting how one day he opened a newspaper to find a public warning stating that he had tried “to foist into print an apology for Jesus Christ.” Two days later, a further article compounded the criticism of the master, lambasting him for his “Pilatism.” Then the critic Latunsky published an even harsher piece titled “A Militant Old Believer.” His lover had rushed in, kissing him and promising to poison Latunsky.
The criticism that the master received is thus similar to Berlioz’s of Ivan—that he betrayed the official state policy of atheism. “Pilatism” is not a well-defined idea but suggests an obsession with Pilate—The Master and Margarita itself, then, is an example of Pilatism. The master’s story demonstrates the suffocating cultural atmosphere in the Soviet Union, which Bulgakov knew all too well.
The master felt his novel to be a “monstrous failure” as “joyless autumn days” brought further vindictive articles. “I had the feeling,” says the master, “that the authors of these articles were not saying what they wanted to say, and that their rage sprang precisely from that.” Over time, he grew mentally ill. His lover was distraught too, insisting that the master take a trip south to recover. The master gave her his remaining money to look after and she promised to come back the next morning.
The master’s comment about the authors is a succinct and well-aimed critique at their fundamental contradiction: they are not artists, because they lack the courage to say what they think. Their attack on him, then, was based on their fear, sensing in him an example of a writer who wasn’t afraid to follow their art wherever necessary.
That night, the master burned the manuscript of the novel in the fire, along with any relevant sketches in his notebooks. Just then, his lover came in. She held him, trembling, promising to save and cure the “sick” man. She wanted to stay but wanted first to return to her husband and be honest with him about her love for the master. The last words she spoke to him were: “Don’t be afraid. Bear with it for a few hours. Tomorrow morning I’ll be here.”
The burning of the manuscript was a symbolic act meant to completely destroy the novel and any ideas that the master had of producing true art. It is this, rather than the novel itself, that produced the “sickness” in the master, as he felt increasingly ostracized form the society that rejected his work. Margarita’s words to him are one of the key messages of the book: be courageous and hope.
The master walked out into the night, fear “possessing every cell” of his body. The easiest thing to have done, he says, would have been to throw himself under a tram—but he was too afraid. Instead, he hitched a ride to the newly opened clinic and begged for help. Now, he is too afraid to try to contact his lover, fearing the heartbreak that would overcome her from believing that he is mad. Despite Ivan’s requests to hear what happened to Yeshua and Pilate, the master decides it is time to leave Ivan’s room, and promptly disappears.
The master’s suggested method of suicide is another example of Bulgakov’s neat parallels, this one gesturing back to Berlioz’s death. The master’s refusal to contact Margarita is based less on fear than on sincerity of his love for her. At this point, he genuinely believes that he can best love her by ceasing to exist.