Although Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a best-seller for many months and the highpoint of Richard Bach’s career, it is generally panned by critics. It has been called banal, simplistic, corny, vapid, pretentious, and full of ersatz philosophy.
Generously viewed as a quick look at spirituality, rather than as an attempt at philosophical literature, the book provides something beautiful and inspirational for almost anyone who reads it, especially younger readers. It illustrates the concepts of personal freedom and spiritual expression, showing the beauty in both.
The book packages Christianity’s son of God with the Buddhist/Hindu philosophy of reincarnation, adding a Zen master to cover yet another religious base. It provides a leap into the power of positive thinking and the New Age thought thriving at the time of the book’s publication. Principles of self-expression and self-assertion, open-mindedness, and tolerance are included; all of these were part of the new way of living proposed in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Liberal thought, freethinking, autonomy for the individual, release from the shackles of control and government—these things are cloaked in the guise of a seagull’s life. Jonathan Seagull wants more from life than to live exactly as all the others, following authority without question and performing tasks only for their utilitarian ends. The ideas within the book potentially are deep and meaningful, but the package is silly and childish. Jonathan Livingston Seagull may easily impress a young or particularly open mind; it offers inspiration, a spark whose intensity is brighter or weaker depending on the reader’s gullibility.
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