At the beginning of the book Woland is called a stranger, exciting double feelings for Ivan and Berlioz, his first contacts in Moscow. And soon will be clear why. Professor Woland is, of course, hypocritical and sly, but also noble and generous. The contradictions in his personality are also revealed in his appearance: «Right eye black, left - for some reason - green. Dark eyebrows, but one higher than the other. In short, a foreigner». He pretends that he was with Pontius Pilate when he sentenced Jesus and adds that he can predict the future. The people in Moscow try to rationalize his supernatural gifts because, if they don't, they end up in psychiatry, like the master and Ivan.
Woland and his retinue cause major chaos in Moscow. They organise a show with black magic in the Variety Theatre, where they offer gorgeous new clothes to all ladies present, and where they made twirl money from the ceiling. Shortly after, however, the women run through the streets, screaming and shouting, in underwear or totally naked, and the money which looked authentic at the beginning had changed into ordinary paper. At the devil's ball, Woland drops his disguise as a visiting professor, and he shows he's Satan. The day after the ball he and his retinue ride back to the underworld on magical black horses.
Woland is the mysterious stranger and professor who is visiting Moscow and who instigates all events in the novel. His origin is not very clear. Bezdomny - pseudonym for the poet Ivan - supposes when they meet at Patriarch's Ponds that he's German. But he could have meant stranger as well. Nowadays the Russians use, in general, the word иностранец (inostranyets) to indicate a foreigner, but in earlier days the word немец [nemets] was used. And this word has a double meaning, because it stood for foreigner, but also for German. So when Ivan asks Woland in the first chapter: «Вы немец?», it can be translated as «are you German?» but also as «are you a foreigner?» Немец [nemets] is derived from the verb неметь [nemet], which means to strike dumb.So a nemets is a dumb person, someone who doesn't speak Russian.
The title of the first chapter is «Никогда не разговаривайте с неизвестными» or «Never talk to strangers». Strangers arouse in the Soviet Union both curiosity as suspicion. Because they represent the glamour of abroad, as well as the risk for espionage.
Still today, many Russians often don't know how to react on strangers. Even in a city with millions of inhabitants like Moscow there are an awful lot of people who speak Russian only and when a foreigner talks to them, even if it only is for asking the way, they turn away and walk away without saying a word. It seems like a strange reaction to Belgians. In our cities it happens every day that you're asked to show the way in another language, and when you drive one hour - in any direction - you're abroad. From Moscow, however, you have to drive thousands of kilometers before meeting the first people who don't speak Russian, and most Russians never were outside Russia - or at least the former Soviet Union. In Russia you will rarely meet people with a black skin. When a Moscovite talks of a «black» he doesn't speak of someone with a black skin, but with black hair - someone from the Caucasus.
The name Woland is very un-russian. It's a variant of the devil's name in Faust, written by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1842): the knight Voland or Faland.
Some see Woland as a parody on Josef Vissarionovich Stalin (1878-1953). And there are indeed similarities. Just like Stalin saved Bulgakov while he eliminated others unconditionally, Woland saves the master while he punishes others. And Stalin was banned from the Russian orthodox seminar of Tbilisi in 1899, just like Satan, as a fallen angel, was banned from heaven.
The self-willed Ukrainean polemicist Alfred Nikolajevich Barkov (1941-2004) argued that Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924) was Woland's prototype. The master would then be the Russian author Maxim Gorki (1868-1936). And Margarita would be inspired by Maria Fyodorovna Yurkovskaya (1868-1953), an actress of the Moscow Art Theatre MKhAT, known under the pseudonym Maria Andreeva. She was Gorki's mistress. According to Barkov, Margarita would have been a prostitute sent to the master by Woland, who would be the impersonation of Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924).
Your guide through the novel
In this section are explained, per chapter, all typical notions, names of people and places, quotations and expressions from the novel with a description of the political, social, economical and cultural context.