Although Jonathan Livingston Seagull is meant for readers of all ages, young adult readers in particular will find many of its themes thought-provoking and applicable to their own lives. The process of Jonathan’s gradual enlightenment calls into question issues such as child/parent relations, individual/group relations, the value of the self, and the importance of being educated and of educating others. Overlapping these ideas are issues of fealty, whether to family, friends, society, instructors, or the self. The story suggests that faith in oneself is the most complete and fulfilling type of faith.
The primary focus of the story is the process through which Jonathan achieves perfection, or the perfect state of consciousness as a seagull. This process is informed by a combination of Eastern philosophy and Western religion. The reader is reminded that the “heaven” Flock where Jonathan achieves his self-actualization is not actually Heaven, but rather an alternative plane of consciousness. He is under the tutelage of Chiang who, complete with an Eastern name, is strongly reminiscent of a guru of Eastern thought—a kind of Buddha. It is suggested that the purpose of life is to find freedom through the perfection of the self and that individuals are reincarnated through many lifetimes before they can actually achieve this perfection. As in much of Eastern philosophy, the individual is here seen as merely another manifestation of matter in the universe; that is, an individual’s “true nature” exists “everywhere at once across space and time.” Jonathan asserts that the only thing he teaches—and that the only thing that is important to teach—is a realization of this universal oneness.
When Jonathan returns to Earth from the “heaven” Flock, however, the story becomes characterized by ideas from Western religion, particularly Christianity. Ideals of kindness and love become central to Jonathan’s teaching. His student, Fletcher, is told to forgive the other gulls for casting him out, to see the good in every gull and teach them all to understand. Jonathan himself is considered wise by some gulls but crazy by others. Some of the Flock even go so far as to describe Jonathan as the...
(The entire section contains 566 words.)
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