Griboedov’s is the beautiful building that houses Massolit, the literary society headed up by Berlioz, and boasts a fancy restaurant. Photographs of Massolit members adorn the walls. Each room deals with a different part of the society, including literary retreats and housing for writers. The narrator describes a conversation he once overheard, in which two men discuss the superiority of the Griboedov restaurant over others in Moscow, based on its luxurious options, freshness of fish and cheap prices.
Massolit is the writers’ union and thus represents the centerpiece of state-sponsored culture. The writers here are given ample resources, which contrasts with their restricted freedom. Bulgakov reserves special scorn for these writers, showing them to be too scared to write anything real, and more than happy to gluttonize themselves in return for writing what they’re supposed to write. The master, when he enters later in the novel, provides the inverse example.
It’s evening, and in one of the offices of the Massolit building twelve writers wait Berlioz to arrive. They complain about Berlioz being late and talk about the writers’ retreats. Some of them lament that they aren’t getting a fair deal, with other writers seemingly always getting the best properties.
The writers’ chief concerns seem to be making the most of the Massolit resources and ensuring that each of them can exploit them fairly. This makes a satirical mockery of the communist ideals of fair distribution and a classless society.
Increasingly annoyed, the writers call around Moscow to try and find Berlioz—who is, in fact, lying dead on two tables at the morgue, his head on one and his body on the other. His Massolit assistant, Zheldybin, is in attendance there, having been taken by investigators to Berlioz’s house in order to seal his papers.
Bulgakov’s black humor is at play here in the use of two separate tables, representing the stark division between life and death. It’s also worth noting how quickly the machinery of bureaucracy kicks in after Berlioz’s death.
At midnight in the Griboedov restaurant, a jazz band strikes up, quickly making the whole place bustle with dancing diners. Suddenly, Archibald Archibaldovich, the restaurant manager, rushes in with news of Berlioz’s death. Grief briefly takes hold of the diners, but quickly subsides. It would be a shame, they think, to let luxuries such as “chicken cutlets de volaille” go to waste. Zheldybin installs himself in Berlioz’s office, considering how best to facilitate the public mourning of the deceased Massolit chairman.
The restaurant scene fleshes out the idea of the Massolit writers as indulgent and self-satisfied. Their quibbles over food, which quickly resume after the news of Berlioz, who is their chairman no less, exemplifies their greediness and also makes a mockery of the starvation prevalent in Russia at the time as a result of Soviet policy.
With the restaurant largely back to normal, the diners are shocked for the second time: Ivan appears on the verandah through “an opening in the trellis,” dressed ridiculously in a torn shirt and underwear, and carrying a lit candle. He addresses the diners, who suspect him of having a case of “delirium tremens.”
Ivan’s appearance has the atmosphere of an apparition, as though he is a messenger from another world. By virtue of his contact with Woland, to a degree he too is a foreigner now.
Ivan rants frenziedly about the events surrounding the strange professor, making little sense to anyone in the restaurant. He tells them that the professor killed Berlioz, but on being asked the professor’s name can only remember that it begins with a “W.” As Ivan goes on describing, amongst other things, a walking, talking cat, someone suggests calling a doctor for him.
Ivan’s rant is a kind of unheard prophecy and is too crazed and distressed to make any sense. Here, only the reader can corroborate Ivan’s absurd story. Ivan, essentially, is trying to tell them that evil has come to town.
Ivan grows increasingly distressed, spilling candle wax on tables and letting out a “terrible war cry.” The waiters tackle him and tie him up with napkins, while Archibald Archibaldovich chastises the doorman for letting someone in who was dressed “in his underpants.” Archibald orders his staff to call the police. When they arrive, the screaming Ivan is carried against his will into a police truck and carted off to a psychiatric clinic.
There is a strong sense of irony in the fact that Ivan’s unwitting audience, an assembly of writers, finds it impossible to empathize with the fantastical nature of his story—it is beyond the realms of their imagination. This suggests the wider point that their imaginations—so key to producing good art—are dulled to the point of uselessness.