What was Anton Chekhov attempting to achieve with The Seagull, and did he achieve it?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Chekhov was attempting to introduce the Symbolist style of drama into Russian theater when he wrote The Seagull. Some compared this play to Ibsen's style,but this was not the direction Chekhov was attempting. Symbolism was a reaction against the overt exactitude of realistic description seen in naturalism and realism, which were anti-idealistic. Symbolism was conversely interested in spiritual representation and imagination. The Symbolist Manifesto stated that "absolute truths" can only be described indirectly, not directly in the overt fashions of realism and naturalism. Symbolist work requires metaphor, images, and symbolic meaning.

Chekhov's The Seagull expressed these ideologies in ways that were unique to drama and that disregarded theatrical convention. The "action"of the play is conversation and introspection. Events that are life changing occur offstage with characters discussing and reacting to them onstage. The ensemble cast (without a major "star") discusses their reactions in evasive indirect language that provides "subtext" (that which is meant without being said) to the play.  

ARKADINA. ... I am going away, and so shall never find out why Constantine shot himself, but I think the chief reason was jealousy, and the sooner I take Trigorin away, the better.

SORIN. There were—how shall I explain it to you?—other reasons besides jealousy for his act. Here is a clever young chap living in the depths of the country, without money or position, with no future ahead of him, and with nothing to do. He is ashamed and afraid of being so idle. I am devoted to him and he is fond of me, but nevertheless he feels that he is useless here, that he is little more than a dependent in this house. It is the pride in him.

ARKADINA. He is a misery to me! [Thoughtfully] He might possibly enter the army.

SORIN. [Gives a whistle, and then speaks with hesitation] It seems to me that the best thing for him would be if you were to let him have a little money. For one thing, he ought to be allowed to dress like a human being. See how he looks! Wearing the same little old coat that he has had for three years, and he doesn't even possess an overcoat! (The Seagull, III, i)

At first, audiences were most unwelcoming and Chekhov left St. Petersburg in 1896 having failed to achieve what he attempted and believing his talent for drama was spent: "I thought ... I had lost all instinct and that, therefore, my machinery must have gone wrong for good." It was not until it had been seen by more and varied audiences that Chekhov received any adulation for the play. Nemirovich-Danchenko and Stanislavsky, founders of Moscow Art Theatre, restaged it in 1898 to great success. Now Chekhov had achieved his intention and was inspired to continue to write for the theater and produce other masterpieces in the same style,  like The Cherry Orchard.

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sesh | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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  Well.. I think what he wanted to achieve through this was a recognition for this new creations of dramatic writing and literature. Through Trepliov's character he convinces the above fact. Actually his play 'The Seagull' was recieved the il-favoured reception just like the Trepliov's play in drama. it was not the contemporary taste, may be he wanted to break that tradition.

  Yes, to some extend I believe he was successfull in achieving this. Later his plays were admired, so can say he could achieve. Especially the contemporary dramas were contradictory to Chekhov's style. Not showing important incidents onstage and disjointed dialogues could have been the reason for the negative comments for him.

  Anyhow he has achieved it via exploring the issue in his own play.


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