Jonathan Livingston Seagull Critical Context - Essay

Richard Bach

Critical Context

When it was published, Jonathan Livingston Seagull enjoyed more popular success than critical success. Although it was a best-seller and continues to be an emblem of the period in which it was written, academic interest in the book was negligible and remains so.

Regard for the book has waned since its initial success, partially because its themes belong to a particular era of late twentieth century American culture, the height of which was in the early 1970’s. During this period, pop culture attempted to unite Eastern philosophical thinking with Western religion in order to develop a more inclusive or universal sense of the spiritual self. Another important novel of this period of American culture is Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), in which a man attempts to reconcile two warring sides of his own consciousness. More recently, Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh (1982) and The Te of Piglet (1992) have continued ideas engendered during this period, despite the fact that much of this brand of spiritual thought lost popularity in the 1980’s.

Richard Bach wrote other books on similar topics after Jonathan Livingston Seagull, including Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah (1977) and Running from Safety (1994), which also dealt with issues of obtaining personal wisdom and educating others about it.