Previous Jungian Scholarship on The Master and Margarita

Previously, I answered the question: Why did I choose Jung as the methodology for my investigation of The Master and Margarita? In short: because Jung’s view of healing from life crisis involves the psyche’s attempt to adapt the individual’s perspective through archetypes and symbols that project the problem into a visible format (i.e., through dreams, paintings, writing, etc). This visibility makes it easier for the individual to confront the problem and adapt to the situation, rebalancing the psyche and spirit in the process. This post presents two examples of how Jungian theory has been used to interpret Bulgakov’s novel.

Riitta Pittman places The Master and Margarita within a view of the Soviet/Russian people as “suffering from a deep split between their original selves […] and their suffering consciousness.”[1] In this context, Pittman uses Jungian theory to interpret the novel as an experience of schizophrenia that demonstrates the “fragmentation of the creative individual’s personality [which] amounted to a way of life during Stalin’s rule.”[2] Pittman’s interpretation focuses on the character of Ivan Bezdomny. Based on her view of Ivan Karamazov’s devil in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov as a figment of Ivan Karamazov’s imagination, Pittman pairs Ivan Bezdomny with his shadow, Woland, so that Woland becomes a manifestation of Ivan’s schizophrenic dream.[3] Pittman also traces parallels between the plot trajectory of Ivan and the Master to demonstrate the fragmentation of Ivan’s psyche,[4] pointing out that Ivan’s experiences with the Master occur when Ivan is asleep or in a semi-conscious state.[5] Ultimately, Pittman reads The Master and Margarita as Bulgakov’s desire to connect with, and become the disciple of, the communist devil (Stalin) just as the characters of The Master and Margarita had become Woland’s.[6]

Judith Mills interprets The Master and Margarita as Ivan Bezdomny’s “dream hallucination,” brought on by Ivan’s failure to write a poem that meets the approval of his editor, Berlioz.[7] For Mills, the novel’s opening events represent “a variation of the medieval dream vision” that comes from Ivan’s unconscious to help him rationalize the conscious accommodations he makes in order to live in the Soviet Union.[8] According to Mills, the dream analysis of The Master and Margarita “reveals Bulgakov’s […] examination of the social psychology of a critical period in Soviet history.”[9] In this context, Ivan’s dream becomes a literary device that expresses truth, helps “synthesize experience and seek[s] solutions to problems of [the] conscious experience” of living under Stalin. [10]

Pittman’s and Mills’ interpretations of the novel as schizophrenia and a dream respectively revolve around the outward difficulties of adapting to life in the Soviet Union. Both suggest that a psychological look at The Master and Margarita results in further commentary from Bulgakov on social life in the 1920s and 1930s Stalinist Soviet Union. My study expands the use of Jungian theory by moving the interpretation away from an external commentary on life in the Soviet Union and, placing The Master and Margarita within the context of active imagination, towards an understanding of the novel as a tool for increasing Bulgakov’s psychological and spiritual adaption to the emotional affects of his professional crises.

In contrast to previous Jungian scholarship of The Master and Margarita, which centers on Ivan Bezdomny, I suggest that each character central to the novel’s plot reflects an archetype within Bulgakov’s unconscious that participated in his process of psychological adaption and restoration. For example, Ivan Bezdomny reflects Bulgakov’s personality (his unique, creative core) and confronts the editor Berlioz (or the persona), who demands Ivan/Bulgakov’s conformity to Soviet literary dictates. Woland suggests Bulgakov’s shadow archetype (or counter-persona), a personification of an individual’s negative interior aspects (things a person does not want to confront) that invades the personality and operates as an agent of psychological change. The Master represents two archetypes of Bulgakov’s unconscious, the Wise Old Man and the Hero, while Margarita embodies Bulgakov’s anima, the numinous, inner feminine aspect of the psyche that confronts the shadow. Together, the Master and Margarita create the syzygy, or union of unconscious male-female aspects needed to complete psychological adaption and restoration. Pontius Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Nostri personify Bulgakov’s ego and self respectively, conscious elements that present the initial conflict of opposites to the psyche. Secondary Muscovite characters of the novel also participate in a Jungian reading, representing unconscious aspects resistant to psychic change that the individual must overcome for psychological adaption to succeed.

Although the protagonist of the novel is Ivan Bezdomny, and my analysis centers on Ivan as a reflection of Bulgakov’s creative personality, the character who best suggests The Master and Margarita as a work of psychological adaption and restoration is Woland, the shadow archetype encountered at the beginning of the process. In arguing for the novel as a work of Bulgakov’s psychological adaption and restoration, I must also build a case for the devil, Woland, as the shadow archetype who sparks the conflict of opposites in Ivan and influences Ivan’s spiritual crisis, which leads to the appearance of the Master and Margarita, the events of Woland’s Spring Ball, and Ivan’s transformation from poet to history professor.

Next time: Objections to a Jungian approach.


[1] Riitta Pittman, The Writer’s Divided Self in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991), 16.

[2] Pittman, The Writer’s Divided Self, 173. See also Andrew Barratt, “The Master and Margarita in Recent Criticism,” in The Master & Margarita: A Critical Companion, ed. Laura D. Weeks (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1996),  113-21.

[3] Pittman, The Writer’s Divided Self, 52.

[4] Pittman, The Writer’s Divided Self, 98.

[5] Pittman, The Writer’s Divided Self, 103.

[6]  Pittman, The Writer’s Divided Self, 170-1.

[7] Judith M. Mills, “Of Dreams, Devils, Irrationality and The Master and Margarita,” in Russian Literature and Psychoanalysis, ed. Daniel Rancour-LaFerriere (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1989), 306.

[8] Mills in Rancour-LaFerriere, Russian Literature and Psychoanalysis, 305.

[9] Mills in Rancour-LaFerriere, Russian Literature and Psychoanalysis, 304.

[10] Mills in Rancour-LaFerriere, Russian Literature and Psychoanalysis, 323.

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