Why Jung?

My previous post introduced my alternative interpretation of The Master and Margarita: as part of Bulgakov’s process of psychological adaption to and recovery from persecution in the Soviet Union. This post focuses on why I chose the analytical psychology of C. G. Jung as the tool of my interpretation.

Jung called the process of psychological adaption and recovery, ‘the process of individuation.’ Individuation seeks to bring an individual to a higher self-awareness and restore the psychological and spiritual balance lost in the midst of life conflict. In his practice Jung found that psychic tension emerged when outside expectations (i.e., the need to conform to social demands) conflicted with an individual’s inner desire to be a unique personality, and not conform to outside pressure. An individual moves through the process of psychological adaption and restoration to free her- or himself from the effects of the psychological tension that results when social demands and individual desires meet and ultimately choke intellectual and spiritual growth. Because it is a psychological process, the conflict of opposites appears in symbols and archetypes, images and figures that respectively personify unconscious material. Thus, the process of psychological adaption and restoration renews the psyche through encounters with these same symbols and archetypes. Jung found these symbols and archetypes expressed in his patient’s dreams. Dreams are spontaneous. Therefore, Jung concluded, the unconscious material that appeared in dreams wanted to become known. By describing the symbols and archetypes within their dreams, Jung saw that his patients could interpret their dream imagery, increase their self-awareness, and discover a means to overcome the obstacles of their daily lives.

Based on his work with dreams, Jung believed unconscious material could take form through creative activities (such as painting, drawing, sculpture, dancing and writing[1]) that would allow a patient to confront psychic obstacles while awake in the same manner that dreams permitted during sleep.[2] Through a creative endeavor then, psychic conflict can reveal itself in symbols and archetypes, and create visible representations of the conflict situation. The individual can then use these images and figures to identify, confront, and overcome the source of psychological tension.

Jung called this way of making symbolic and archetypal unconscious material visible during waking states (as opposed to in dreams) “active imagination.”

During the time Bulgakov wrote The Master and Margarita his central life conflict was reconciling his desire to assert his individual creativity with the state’s demand of conformity to Soviet literary expectations. Thus, in Jungian terms, I propose that The Master and Margarita emerged through a natural, creative process of active imagination (i.e., during Bulgakov’s waking state) as an effort of Bulgakov’s psyche to confront and overcome the trauma of his professional persecution. This (mostly likely unconscious) effort, I argue, aimed to restore and strengthen Bulgakov’s psychic and spiritual balance in the years leading up to his death.

According to Jung, no single literary interpretation offers the “correct” reading of a work;[3] therefore, I do not claim that my reading supersedes any assessment of The Master and Margarita that came before. I only wish to add an additional suggestion to the already fertile ground that is Bulgakov scholarship. A Jungian analysis, in fact, complements previous scholarship on the novel, and may include elements of other thematic studies. For example, a Jungian reading of the novel as psychological adaption and restoration cannot discount autobiographical elements, which prove important to considering the function behind Bulgakov’s composition of The Master and Margarita. Contrary to previous scholarship, from a Jungian perspective, no single character represents Bulgakov within the text. Rather, each character within the novel is a part of Bulgakov’s psyche and therefore a projection of Bulgakov himself. A Jungian study using psychological adaption and restoration responds to the problem of the double novel and the question of authority as well. Within the context of psychological adaption and restoration, the novel becomes a single entity whose Moscow and Yershalaim narratives create a unified view of Bulgakov’s psyche. The details of the Moscow narrative reflect unconscious elements of Bulgakov’s psyche while the Yershalaim narrative refers to conscious elements. When viewed as a cohesive unit, it is possible to suggest Bulgakov as the sole authorial source for the novel considering its content emerged from the creative process at work in his psyche.

Next time: Previous Jungian analysis of The Master and Margarita.


[1] C. G. Jung, Collected Works: The Symbolic Life: Miscellaneous Writings, trans. R. F. C. Hull, Vol. 18 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), par. 400. Hereafter, Jung’s Collected Works will be referred to as CW.

[2] Mary Ann Mattoon, Jung and the Human Psyche, An Understandable Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2005), 110.

[3] Stephen Kings, “Jung’s Hermeneutics of Scripture,” The Journal of Religion 77, no. 2 (Apr., 1997): 249.

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