The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Jonathan Livingston Seagull enjoys practicing flight and learning to fly at increasing speeds. To him, the most important thing is to fly quickly. By the end of the story, Jonathan not only flies at previously unheard of speeds but also overcomes time as a tangible entity; he learns how to travel anywhere and to any time he wants.

Jonathan does not want to live the same way as the rest of his flock. The others only “get from shore to food and back again”; they have no interest in flying as an art form or as a spiritual quest. After a few days of practice, Jonathan breaks the world speed record for seagulls, which was ninety miles per hour. He soon makes a mistake and lands in an explosion, crashing into the sea. He wishes for death at this point. Feeling pity for himself, he gives up his pursuit of speed, but the uncontrollable desire to fly fast wells up within his soul. He flies at night, causing a breakthrough realization: If he pulls his wings together, like a hawk’s, he will be able to fly straight down at super-seagull velocities. He soon reaches a speed of two hundred miles per hour, a speed he experiences as power, joy, and pure beauty.

Jonathan shows the other gulls his accomplishment, but he is ostracized by the Elder and immediately banished to the Far Cliffs. He lives a long and happy, yet remote, life as Outcast until two angelic seagulls escort him to heaven, then leave him to discover his new life. In heaven, he travels at...

(The entire section is 537 words.)

Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

As an allegory of self-enlightenment, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is meant to have universal implications. The story resists being located in any particular time or place—it could be happening on any coastline in the world at any moment in history. Because seagulls are the only characters, the moral of the story applies not simply to one race or nationality of people but rather to every creature capable of thought. The allegory is deceptively simple. It is told through a combination of uncomplicated language (reminiscent of folktales) and black-and-white photographs that capture the elegant flight of the gulls. Author Richard Bach also invests the story with an amalgam of Eastern and Western philosophy—ideas broad in scope but simplified for the lay philosopher and common reader. The use of allegory, in which the particulars of the setting are vague, suggests that the themes addressed are both universal and timeless.

As the story opens, while his Flock feeds on a fishing boat, Jonathan is elsewhere over the ocean testing his speed and control in flight. Unlike the other gulls, who use their powers of flight only to obtain the day’s meal, Jonathan views flight as an art form to be studied, tested, and perfected. He spends his time discovering how to access the full potential of his wing movements so that he can do barrel-rolls in mid-flight, so that he can control his turns at higher speeds, and, most important to him, so that he can go...

(The entire section is 552 words.)

Setting

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Not surprisingly, Jonathan Livingston Seagull takes place at the seashore. Jonathan, however, is always at a distance from the rest of...

(The entire section is 146 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Bach's descriptions of flight, exhibiting an acute metaphorical awareness of aerodynamics and sensation, reflect years of writing for pilots....

(The entire section is 243 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Bach's descriptions of flight exhibit an acute metaphorical awareness of aerodynamics and the sensation of flying, reflecting his years of...

(The entire section is 184 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is especially notable for how briefly (10,000 words) it integrates the reader into an optimistic vision....

(The entire section is 616 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Jonathan comments, "I am a seagull. I am limited by my nature. If I were meant to learn so much about flying, I'd have charts for brains ....

(The entire section is 171 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Research the lifestyle and habitat of seagulls. Are Jonathan's accomplishments extraordinary for such a bird, or is Bach taking liberties...

(The entire section is 103 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Stories of flight (with its symbolism of escape, freedom, control, intelligence, and sexual fulfillment) date from long before the Greek myth...

(The entire section is 166 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Bach relates his messiah theme in two other best-selling books. Jonathan can be likened to a messiah, but Donald Shimoda in Illusions:...

(The entire section is 337 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

"Richard (David) Bach." In Current Biography Yearbook, 1973. Outlines Bach's career as "gypsy pilot" through Jonathan Livingston...

(The entire section is 136 words.)