Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Injections, Yeshua, and Ivan

Within the first few pages of The Master and Margarita I was struck by the imagery of Berlioz's heart "with a blunt needle lodged inside it" (p. 4). This needle seems to cause Berlioz to hallucinate, and I was interested in following this theme of inoculation in the novel. Often inoculation refers to vaccines, but I also view it as receiving ideas/visions/dreams, etc. (we could even call it, wait for it, INCEPTION!) This early instance of a sort of direct needle-vision correlation doesn't always happen, but there were some interesting points, especially concerning Ivan the poet. There is always a language of disease used with the novel, as well as a definite mirroring of Ivan and Yeshua. I've compiled a sort of list of relevant points to this interrelated topic. 

Pilate has a headache throughout chapter 2, causing him to treat Yeshua as he would not normally treat a prisoner. He also wonders if he has been poisoned in some way, which I see as tying back into the idea of being inoculated. Pilate is also named on p. 27 as "Knight of the Golden Spear," which I associate with needles as being a tool for poking. This sounds silly so far, but bear with me. 

After Ivan is taken to the mental ward he is given injections numerous times to calm him down. The first is after he tries to jump out the window: 

A hypodermic syringe flashed in the doctor's hands, and in a single motion the woman ripped open the bedraggled sleeve of Ivan's Tolstoyan shirt and grabbed his arm with unfeminine strength. There was a smell of ether, Ivan grew weak in the arms of the four attendants, and the agile doctor took advantage of the moment and plunge the needle into Ivan's arm. p. 59
We see Ivan getting more injections on page 96 when the nurse notices him crying in frustration at his failed attempts to write what had happened, and again on page 142. Ivan receives this injection after the ward is upset when Nikanor Ivanovich arrives and makes a ruckus, and Nikanor is also soothed by an injection, along with all the other patients. The doctor's and nurses treat these (probably morphine) injections as an act of mercy to upset patients, but it offers no cure for their ailments.

As Ivan drifts off to sleep we revisit Pilate and the crucifixion of Yeshua. As I said before, the spears I related to needles, and here they are used as a means of relief to Yeshua, Gestas, and Dimas.
"Praise the merciful Hegemon!" he whispered solemnly and quietly pierced Yeshua through the heart. Yeshua shuddered and whispered, "Hegemon..." p 151-2
Before the mercy killing, the soldiers also offer water on a sponge so they can drink. Although both are used for relief, the spears offer a more permanent (if violent) solution to pain, and release blood instead of injecting something into it.

Yeshua and Ivan are clearly connected by homelessness (Yeshua is called a vagrant by Pilate, Ivan's poet name, Bezdomny, means homeless), mental instability (Ivan is in a ward, Pilate calls Yeshua mentally ill), as well as both being rather simple-minded (Yeshua is not a stoic Jesus, but a more naive and straightforward character, the Master calls Ivan an ignorant man, and Ivan agrees). I'm interested in seeing how this parallel plays out in the rest of the novel.

On a final note, there is also a language of disease used in several instances, on page 54, "The skin on the doorman's face took on a typhoid tinge..." and on p 129, "a putrid malarial dampness had spread over the floor." The barman is told by Woldon that he will die of liver cancer in nine months, and advises against going to the hospital, because they can offer no cure.


  1. This is a pretty good post, though I wish you would've added some personal reflection as to what all this injection imagery means, instead of just giving a list of the imagery's appearances throughout the book. The parallels drawn between Ivan and Yeshua were very intriguing as well.

  2. I love this post. I have a really short attention span, so I can rarely keep track of something so symbolic and so little through out the whole book, so I'm really happy you brought this to my attention and provided all the examples as well.

  3. My "reflection" was on the connection between two seemingly unrelated images: the needles and the spears, and the parallels between Yeshua and Ivan. I didn't give a thesis statement because I've only read half of the book, and it isn't always clear how an image is operating until you know what the resolution is.