Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Seagull inaugurates the most significant portion of Chekhov’s career, when his major plays were written, and marks a departure from his earlier dramatic work, chiefly conventionally structured short plays with plots developing onstage climax and resolution. The Seagull and subsequent plays treat onstage the characters’ inner action and lives without typical plot progression, while keeping dramatic events offstage. The play’s production proved a disaster. Masterfully directed two years later at the new Moscow Art Theatre, it was a recognized success as a new dramatic form.
In the play’s first of four acts, a celebrated stage actress, Arkadina, returns to visit her estate with her younger lover and popular writer, Trigorin. There they, with her doddering brother Sorin and visitors, are given a performance of a murky symbolistic play by her son Konstantin. Its sole performer is a neighbor girl, Nina, whom Konstantin adores. When the play is rejected by both Arkadina and Trigorin as decadent, its author is devastated.
The second act reveals the characters’ unhappy lives fueled by unrequited love. Both the estate manager’s wife and her daughter, Masha, are rejected by those they love: respectively, physician Dr. Dorn and Konstantin. The latter jealously loves his dismissive mother, who strives to hold onto the self-absorbed Trigorin. Angry at Nina’s indifference to his play, Konstantin kills a seagull and gives...
(The entire section is 600 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
One day Konstantin Treplev kills a seagull and places it at the feet of Nina, the beautiful young actor with whom he is hopelessly in love. He tells her that unless she can love him, he, too, will be lying dead at her feet. Nina, however, is not in love with Konstantin; she is infatuated with Trigorin, the famous novelist, who in turn is in love with Irina Arkadina, an actor and Konstantin’s mother.
Konstantin hates Trigorin, looking upon him as a purveyor of empty phrases, a writer entirely different from what he himself hopes to become. Konstantin’s ambition is to create new and more expressive literary forms, and he wrote a play in which Nina consents to appear. The performance, staged in the open air on the estate of Pyotr Sorin, Konstantin’s uncle, is not exactly a success, although it possesses unquestioned literary merit. Madame Arkadina and Trigorin, who are present, refuse to take the production seriously. Trigorin is most impressed by the performance of nineteen-year-old Nina in the principal role.
Madame Arkadina’s behavior at her son’s play is typical of her attitude toward Konstantin in every aspect of their relationship. As a famous actor, whose popularity depends upon her keeping her youth and her good looks, she naturally is not overjoyed at the constant reminder that she is the mother of a twenty-five-year-old son. Consequently, she keeps Konstantin in the country, where he will not be seen and thus be associated with her in the public mind. Moreover, she gives him little or no money to spend, so that he is forced to wear the same suit for years until it is threadbare. Her brother, Pyotr Sorin, takes his sister to task on several occasions for her stinginess, but she pleads poverty, meaning, of course, that she prefers to spend her money on herself.
In spite of the way she treats him, Konstantin is greatly attached to his mother, so much so that he develops a morbid, unhealthy attitude toward his work and life in general. Occasionally he will lose his temper and quarrel violently with his mother. When he does so, she bursts into tears, and Konstantin is overcome promptly by feelings of remorse.
Konstantin is not the only unbalanced individual on the Sorin estate. Another is Masha, the daughter of Pyotr Sorin’s manager, who is as hopelessly in love with Konstantin as he is with Nina. Although she is only a young girl, she dresses habitually in black—in mourning, she says, for her chronic unhappiness. Semyon Medvedenko, the...
(The entire section is 1023 words.)