I confess, that line about Satan was from Don MacLean, not Mikhail Bulgakov.
In this chapter there is no laughter except the hollow guffawing of the cat, for appearance not humour.
Satan delays his appearance until all the ghoueasts have arrived, and does so in grim fashion, calculated to restore a sense of reality after the glamour of the ball. Surrounded by angels of death, Satan wears his dirty patched nightshirt, using a sword as a walking stick. Azazello brings a dish calculated to recall the prize delivered to Salome by King Herod.
Rather than John the Baptist, here the severed head is that of Berlioz, chopped by the tram wheel as Satan’s first demonstration of his powers in Moscow. But this head is alive, and in pain. To absolute silence except a doorbell in the distance, Satan proceeds to lecture the severed head about how it all came true with obdurate fact.
The head suddenly turns to a glistening skull with emerald eyes and pearl teeth. A new guest arrives, not a ghoul but an actual person, quaking with fright, a Moscow tourist guide, Baron Maigel, invited by Satan to the ball as sacrificial victim. Moving into Stalinist mode, Satan tells this terrified innocent that rumours he is an eavesdropper and spy have produced the conclusion of his impending death.
Abadonna the angel of death steps forward and takes off his dark glasses, looking at the victim, whose chest splits open causing a gushing cascade of blood. Satan drinks this sacrificial rite from the skull of Berlioz, instructing Margarita to do the same, which she does, upon which she awakes in Berlioz’ drawing room.
Perhaps the whole episode of flying and the ball are just a nightmare? We will find out in the next chapter.
In any case, the meaning here appears to be that the Bolshevik regime has perfected the art of the stage managed public event, the grand military parades in Red Square, Lenin’s mausoleum, the show trials, the Potemkin villages. Like Satan’s ball, these appearances conceal a grim reality, the pure terror of innocent sacrifice and suffering.
The collapse of the norms of decency under totalitarian rule becomes an intense source of trauma and disintegration, a learned helplessness as people wait for orders from on high. The sheer terror of this blood drinking episode is designed to convey the intimidation that ripples through society when someone is told in public that they have been informed on.
I suppose so, but pretending to quote Jesus is more fun.
The sense that the Soviet Union had achieved parity with the USA in the arms race had just this veneer, mocked as ‘Upper Volta with rockets
’. The veneer of excitement at Satan’s ball is a show designed to concentrate attention on the shocking dissonance of the host’s celebratory behaviour. Such appalling conduct may cower people for a time, but as with the Soviet Union, the reality was a brittle lie, a house of cards that fell down like the vanishing of Satan’s magnificent ballroom.
That is an interesting analysis of someone who has the “L'Etat, c'est moi” attitude of Stalin. I think it is fair enough to equate tyranny with treason, treason against the justifiable hopes of ordinary people for future opportunities.
Indeed, and I think that is the point Bulgakov is making with this chapter, even though he died before the war, and long before the awakening of 1989.
Looking back in history to find ruthless swaggering tyrants who have been viewed positively for their contributions, they are relatively few, although Alexander and Napoleon come to mind. There is also the case of Genghis Khan, whose ruthlessness enabled Mongolia to rule half the world for several centuries after his conquests.
The Chinese example post Mao shows it is possible for successors to retain institutions built by tyrants, suggesting that if Russia had a Deng rather than a Gorbachev the Communist Party of the Soviet Union might still be in power. Perhaps the difference from China is the Soviet overreach with the captive nations of Eastern Europe, whose rebellion was inevitable.