The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On Friday morning, there is a huge queue outside of the Variety theater wanting to buy tickets for Woland’s next performance that evening. With Styopa, Rimsky, and Varenukha all missing, the Variety’s bookkeeper, Vassily Stepanovich Lastochkin, is surprised to find himself in charge.
Word has got around Moscow about last night’s incredible proceedings—the suggestion of free money and clothes has probably helped. Vassily is not a senior member of staff, hence his surprise at his new position.
Themes
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Investigators come to the Variety offices to enquire about the previous night’s events, which Vassily has only heard about second-hand. The investigators bring their best dog, “Ace of Diamonds,” who is instantly disturbed and tries to jump out of the window.
The Ace of Diamonds’ reaction is in line with the idea that animals can sense thing that humans can’t—he can smell the lingering presence of evil in the room.
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A sign is put up cancelling that evening’s show as the investigators try haplessly to piece together what’s happened. All the staff are sent home and the Variety’s doors locked. Vassily has to go the “Commission on Spectacles and Entertainment of the Lighter Type” to report on yesterday’s events; after that, he needs to deliver the previous day’s takings: 21,711 roubles.
Vassily’s task is typical of a society with such stringent bureaucracy. The dryness of the commission’s name is a meant to be comic, contrasting with the professed purpose of the institution: facilitating light entertainment. This is gently suggestive of the stifling cultural environment and pervasive surveillance.
Themes
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Vassily tries to take a taxi to the Commission, but the cab drivers keep refusing. One eventually takes him, explaining that he and the other drivers are on guard: when they had earlier picked up passengers from the Variety, the money they had received kept turning into something else, like a bottle label or a bee.
Here the reader learns that, though the money seemed real in the theater, there’s something mysterious about it. In a way, this is a continuation of Woland’s spectacle, spreading confusion through Moscow by making the money turn into items of no value.
Themes
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Vassily arrives at the Commission to find distress and commotion. Anna Richardovna, secretary to the commission chairman, Prokhor Petrovich, is distraught. She clutches Vassily by the lapels and begs him to take a look in Prokhor’s office. Hearing Prokhor’s familiar voice, Vassily is astonished to discover that Prokhor has become an empty suit, performing the usual functions of a human being but with no visible body parts.
Prokhor symbolizes the hollowness of an overly bureaucratic society. He also represents an absence of courage—even when his body has disappeared, he is still trying to do his “official” duty. The image of the empty suit thus gestures towards people doing things they don’t believe to be right out of a sense of obligation to the state.
Themes
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Related Quotes
Anna Richardovna explains to Vassily what happened. Apparently, the office was visited by a black cat—as big as a “behemoth”—who barged into Prokhor’s room. Prokhor had exclaimed, “get him out of here, devil take me,” at which the cat said, “Devil take you? that, in fact, can be done!” Prokhor was replaced by the animate suit there and then. Vassily wonders if it’s the same cat that was involved in the black magic séance.
Prokhor makes the mistake, like Berlioz early in the novel, of using the devil’s name in vain. Behemoth delights in taking him literally by showing him the power of Woland and his associates. Vassily’s hunch is obviously correct. This also gives the reader a sense of why Behemoth has his particular name—because of his size. A behemoth is large biblical beast, variously interpreted as an elephant, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, or buffalo. The Russian word means the second of these.
Themes
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Feeling that he isn’t making any progress, Vassily goes to a different building “affiliate” to the Commission. But here, too, he is confronted with a bizarre sight. Members of staff are hysterical, intermittently bursting into song completely against their will.
The singing workers are a satirical take on enforced patriotism in the Soviet Union. They’re also a stand-in for the idea of state-controlled culture; like the Soviet Union more generally, the workers don’t have agency over what they sing.
Themes
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As a doctor arrives to try and help with this “mass hypnosis,” one of the members of staff explains how the building had been visited by a choirmaster who wore a “cracked pince-nez” and “wretched checkered trousers” (Koroviev), apparently as a part of extra-curricular activity organized by the management. He had given the staff a brief lesson before leaving, promising to return. But he hasn’t returned, and the workers have been unable to stop bursting into song ever since.
Another mention of hypnosis, typical of the Moscow populace’s inability to see the true cause of what’s happening. The choirmaster was Koroviev, who exploited the regular “organized fun” at the building to set up in the involuntary singing.
Themes
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Soon, trucks arrive to cart off the entire staff to Professor Stravinsky’s clinic. Vassily then heads to the financial sector and tries to deposit the theater’s takings from the previous night.  But as he hands over the money, it becomes clear that it has been turned into foreign currency. “There he is, one of the tricksters from the Variety,” shouts a voice; Vassily is arrested.
Vassily thus falls victim to the same stunt pulled on Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy in chapter 9. It seems that Woland and his gang are able to turn the money to foreign currency—or other things—at just the right moment to cause maximum damage. This moment also shows the fragility of people’s status in the book—just a moment ago, Vassily was in charge of the theater.
Themes
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The Ambiguity of Good and Evil Theme Icon
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