The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita


Mikhail Bulgakov

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Briefcases Symbol Icon

Many of the minor characters in the Moscow narrative, who usually represent cowardice or selfishness, are depicted with briefcases. This is Bulgakov’s nod to the overbearing bureaucracy of the Soviet Union and the fine line between being an “official” and a “non-official” person. Soviet citizens often carried briefcases which held their identity papers, should they have a run-in with the authorities. But the briefcase also shows the weakness of unquestioning “duty” and loyalty to state ideology, with those citizens holding the briefcases literally unable to let go of the limitations of the society they live in. Nikolai Ivanovich provides a good example of this symbolism: when is transformed into a hog and ridden by Natasha in lieu of a broomstick, he can’t bring himself to let go of his briefcase, clutching it as if it is the most important item in the world.

Briefcases Quotes in The Master and Margarita

The The Master and Margarita quotes below all refer to the symbol of Briefcases. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Random House edition of The Master and Margarita published in 1965.
Chapter 17 Quotes

At a huge writing desk with a massive inkstand an empty suit sat and with a dry pen, not dipped in ink, traced on a piece of paper. The suit was wearing a necktie, a fountain pen stuck from its pocket, but above the collar there was neither neck nor head, just as there were no hands sticking out of the sleeves. The suit was immersed in work and completely ignored the turmoil that reigned around it. Hearing someone come in, the suit leaned back and from above the collar came the voice, quite familiar to the bookkeeper, of Prokhor Petrovich:

‘What is this? Isn’t it written on the door that I’m not receiving?’

The beautiful secretary shrieked and, wringing her hands, cried out: ‘You see? You see?! He’s not there! He’s not! Bring him back, bring

him back!’

Here someone peeked in the door of the office, gasped, and flew out. The bookkeeper felt his legs trembling and sat on the edge of a chair,

but did not forget to pick up his briefcase. Anna Richardovna hopped around the bookkeeper, worrying his jacket, and exclaiming:

‘I always, always stopped him when he swore by the devil! So now the devil’s got him!’

Related Symbols: Briefcases
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:
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Briefcases Symbol Timeline in The Master and Margarita

The timeline below shows where the symbol Briefcases appears in The Master and Margarita. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9. Koroviev’s Stunts
The Ambiguity of Good and Evil Theme Icon
The Danger and Absurdity of Soviet Society Theme Icon find no contract, letter from Styopa, rental money, or theater pass in his his briefcase. As he is led away from the apartments, one of his neighbors observes his arrest... (full context)
Chapter 20. Azazello’s Cream
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
Love and Hope Theme Icon
The Danger and Absurdity of Soviet Society Theme Icon
...moonlight. She hears her neighbor, Nikolai Ivanovich, park his car and gets out with his briefcase. She shouts at him, calling him “boring.” Just then, Azazello calls and tells her it’s... (full context)
Chapter 21. Flight
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
The Ambiguity of Good and Evil Theme Icon
The Danger and Absurdity of Soviet Society Theme Icon
Natasha is riding a “fat hog” which is clutching a briefcase. She shouts through the air: “I confess I took the cream! […] Forgive me, my... (full context)
Chapter 24. The Extraction of the Master
Art and Authenticity Theme Icon
The Danger and Absurdity of Soviet Society Theme Icon
...old flat, suddenly appear. Azazello accuses Aloisy, who is in his underwear and clutching a briefcase, of deliberately defaming the master so that he could take his apartment. In a fit... (full context)
Courage and Cowardice Theme Icon
The Ambiguity of Good and Evil Theme Icon
...Woland wishes Margarita and the master happiness and bids them goodbye. They leave with a suitcase containing the novel. Azazello summons the car with the rook to drive them home.  (full context)