Why Use Jungian Archetypal Theory to Investigate The Master and Margarita?

My examination of The Master and Margarita is propelled by the following thoughts:

  • Bulgakov was not shy about expressing his anti-Bolshevik sentiments nor his dislike of the ideology behind socialist realism (and the expectations they created for artists). While scholars read The Master and Margarita as an anti-Soviet work, the question remains: why would Bulgakov hide behind religious themes, symbols, and archetypes when he had been open about his feelings elsewhere? He was a skilled satirist. Surely he could have created a publishable satire of the Soviet life within the format of socialist realism if he had wanted. Some may say that he feared imprisonment or death at the hands of Stalin. True. But, if this was the case, then why Bulgakov spent twelve years writing a novel that focused on specifically religious themes becomes a more urgent question. If he feared for his life, why bother composing the novel at all?

  • While Bulgakov sometimes employed figurative imagery in his work (such as in Heart of a Dog [Sabach’e Serdtse]), he did not rely on imagery to the extent that he did in The Master and Margarita, which is an explosion of symbols and archetypes. What was happening that caused him to generate a narrative that required such imagery?

  • After the OGPU’s search and seizure operation in 1926, Bulgakov never wrote another journal, fearing that his work would be confiscated again. Instead, he asked his third wife, Eleena Sergeevna, to keep a diary. Bulgakov did not cease to have personal thoughts just because he denied himself the space in which to write them. The fact that he felt he could not put his personal thoughts into words may have compelled him to put his thoughts into imagery, for example the symbols and archetypes that create the narrative of The Master and Margarita. Based on the letters he wrote to friends and the government, Bulgakov had an intense emotional response to his persecution. Those emotions went somewhere. Could it be that they were channeled into The Master and Margarita?

  • Bulgakov wrote quickly, spending a few months to maybe a year on a piece. He continued to produce work while composing The Master and Margarita, but he spent twelveyears writing The Master and Margarita–and only stopped because he died. Why did this work have such a hold on his attention?

These questions revolve around one central question: what was going on within Bulgakov that made the symbolic and archetypal narrative of The Master and Margarita emerge? Jung’s archetypal theory and analytic psychology, which focuses on healing unseen psychic and spiritual wounds, stands out as a method devoted to investigating the meaning within literary imagery. In addition, Jung’s methodology displays a genuine concern for healing the suffering that leads an individual to express her/himself in an archetypal and symbolic fashion. For an artist, mired in anguish over his profession persecution and unable to express his thoughts in his own way, a methodology that analyses symbolic and archetypal narratives based in suffering seems appropriate for use with The Master and Margarita.

A Jungian analysis of The Master and Margarita does not seek to displace previous scholarship on the novel. A Jungian exploration of the novel’s symbolic and archetypal nature will ultimately round out existing views and contribute to developing a holistic picture of the work as it fit within Bulgakov’s life.

Before delving into the narrative itself, I must divert attention to an explanation of Jung’s analytical psychology and his archetypal theory. This discussion will

  1. fill out the picture of why Jungian theory is appropriate for investigation of literature born out of a period of intense psycho-spiritual suffering, and
  2. set up the remainder of my discussion to come concerning Bulgakov’s life, his regression, and the contents of The Master and Margarita.

Coming next: The next chapter on Jung’s analytic psychology and his archetypal theory.

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