What are the characteristics of Jonathan Livingston Seagull?

Jonathan Livingston Seagull can be described as brave, ambitious, and individualistic. Believing himself to be different from the other birds in the flock, he wants to fly higher and faster than them by learning the secrets of flight.

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The novel is intended as a transparent allegory of the human condition structured as a kind of “hero's-journey” narrative, in which a pure soul is beset by conflict on its way to redemption and transcendence of their previously held limitations. While manifestly rooted in the practical self-help genre, Richard Bach ...

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The novel is intended as a transparent allegory of the human condition structured as a kind of “hero's-journey” narrative, in which a pure soul is beset by conflict on its way to redemption and transcendence of their previously held limitations. While manifestly rooted in the practical self-help genre, Richard Bach's novel is nonetheless replete with a late 1960's hodgepodge of Eastern and Western religion and philosophy that came to his mind, fully written as a kind of prophetic revelation. Just as the novel is a composite of form and idea meant to be universally relatable as a blank screen for the reader to project their own consciousness and experience, the title character is a composite of certain qualities intended to serve Bach's main purpose.

Johnathan is committed to an authentic existence, and his self-possession and empathic awareness mark him not just as an outsider but as a mythic literary type of questing hero. Johnathan's passion and curiosity drive him to seek out the mysteries of the unknown world, not for his own enrichment or enlightenment but for the ultimate benefit of the Flock. In that way, Johnathan resembles not just an Arthurian knight but a messiah-type figure chosen by the creator/almighty to reveal the truth of existence to the doubters and haters and whose benevolence and teacherly vocation also resemble the life of the Buddha. In other words, Johnathan is a combination of very human virtues like kindness, curiosity, and daring that define his character as distinct from the other seagulls. Yet, he also illustrates the divine characteristics of selflessness, compassion, and forgiveness embodied by history's great sages and prophets that human beings strive for in their search for meaning and fulfillment.

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Jonathan Livingston Seagull is nothing if not an individualist. Like all individualists, he feels different from everyone else, as if he somehow doesn't belong with the common herd or, in his case, the common flock. Whereas the other birds are content to fly simply in order to catch food, Jonathan wants to understand the mechanics of flight in order to be able to soar higher and fly faster than any other seagull.

Jonathan is so determined to assert his difference from the other birds that he's prepared to risk turning himself into an outcast by his daring flight experiments. As well as demonstrating his individualism, Jonathan's actions also show him to be quite brave, as it takes a lot of courage for someone to break free of an established community and go it alone.

In case anyone might think that all this means that Jonathan's a little bit on the arrogant side, it's important to recognize that this remarkable seagull does have the humility to learn from those with superior knowledge. Jonathan is the willing student of Chiang, the Elder Gull, who encourages him to transcend the limitations of his physical body and achieve a state of spiritual well-being.

Having reached a state of spiritual and technical mastery, Jonathan is keen to return to earth and teach the other seagulls what he's learned. This shows us that Jonathan wants to put something back into his community, even though the other gulls treated him like an outcast.

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Jonathan Livingston Seagull, though a gull, models individualism, creativity, courage, and generosity. He pulls away from the flock in part one, finding himself bored with their materialism and conformity. His own questioning and nonconformity result in him being exiled. However, his exile leads him to a higher plane of existence as he pursues his dream, which was not encouraged by his flock, of learning everything possible about flight.

Through finding mentors after leaving the flock, Jonathan learns the importance of being true to himself and his own vision. He also learns that it is not enough simply to please himself and follow his own passion. As he gains wisdom, he comes to develop the generous desire to give back to his society. He learns love and forgiveness and returns to the flock that expelled him hoping he can share his newfound wisdom with the gulls who once rejected him.

Jonathan is a bird in the American transcendentalist tradition of Emerson and Thoreau. He finds his best self by becoming an individualist who is true to his own vision. By following his own heart he can, as Emerson advised young people, offer more that is of use to his community than if he had merely followed the crowd.

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Jonathan is a loner and a visionary. He is isolated because of two related characteristics: his love of flying, and his refusal to accept the flock's statements about the way things should be/work. (Given author Richard Bach's longstanding love for flying, we could see him as a stand-in for the author as well.) He's brave, and driven by a vision he feels more than understands: the need for speed. As a result, he becomes transcendent, a kind of hero figure who is self-transforming. You might call him an avatar for the New Age.

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