Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach, was published in 1970. By 1972 the novella had sold more than a million copies. This fable has been adapted into film, ballet, and music. It has also been widely parodied.
Most seagulls only care about one thing—eating. Jonathan is not an ordinary seagull, though, and above all else he cares about flying. On this morning, thousands of gulls flock toward the promise of a free breakfast behind a fishing boat on the water below them. Jonathan is practicing flying on a curve, sometimes stalling in midair but soon resuming his curve.
Jonathan’s love of flying sets him apart from the other gulls and even from his parents. They are dismayed that their son spends hours alone each day practicing various aspects of flight, and he knows this fascination with flying separates him from the others. When he experiments with aerodynamics, Jonathan realizes he can fly more easily when he is closer to the water; this is usually only done by lesser birds, such as albatross and pelicans. This is another source of disappointment for his parents. They fear he is not eating enough, but Jonathan simply has to know what he can and cannot do in the air. His father admonishes him to study food and how to get it, for winter is approaching. He reminds him that the only reason seagulls fly is to eat. Jonathan is an obedient son and tries for a few days to do what the other seagulls are doing. He dives and screeches and fights for scraps like the rest, but he simply cannot keep doing it. There is too much to learn, and soon Jonathan is alone, far out at sea, hungry but happy.
He practices steep dives into waves and realizes why seagulls never do this: at seventy miles per hour in a vertical fall, he crashes—every time. But he perseveres, makes some corrections, and is able to dive at ninety miles an hour, setting the “world speed record” for seagulls. His exhilaration is short-lived, however; as soon as he changes the angle of his wings, he explodes in midair and hits the wall of water below him. It is dark when he regains consciousness. He is physically exhausted, but even worse is that he feels a deep sense of failure. He wishes he could just sink to the bottom of the ocean and “end it all.”
As he floats, he hears a voice in his head and begins to focus on his limitations. He is a seagull, so he does not have the brain to...
(The entire section is 3228 words.)
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Jonathan Livingston Seagull is concerned with a young seagull's efforts to rise above the ordinary. In a flock where individuality is frowned upon, Jonathan finds himself a loner and an outcast. After performing feats of tremendous courage and skill, Jonathan is expelled from the flock. This gives him the freedom to develop his skills, and in so doing he reaches a higher plane of achievement, a heaven of sorts. The lessons that Jonathan learns in his travels reflect both a greater peace of mind and a freedom to be himself. Jonathan continues the cycle, by returning to the flock and teaching its ambitious members the lessons that he has learned from Sullivan Seagull and Chiang, the Elder Gull.
(The entire section is 118 words.)