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Why is The Seagull considered a naturalist play?

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The Seagull is a play about the artistic impulse, and how it is perverted by social conventions; that's why it's naturalist.

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Literary naturalism is not the same as realism. Naturalism strives to depict humans as a part of nature—that is, subject to their environment—in a way that is detached or even clinical. Often the purpose of naturalist writers is to observe a social phenomena closely, like a scientist, in order to suggest a social critique. So it is with Chekhov.

The Seagull is a play about playwrights and actors, so in that sense the "phenomenon" it observes is its own production, or the artistic impulse that gives rise to plays. Chekhov observes his characters acutely. Their petty squabbles and unrequited loves form what amounts to the "action" of the play, but Chekhov's purpose is to show the friction between their personal desires (for artistic fame, or for a particular lover) and the social and class prejudices that make achieving happiness impossible, in the first place, but also how inadequate literary productions (like The Seagull itself) are at articulating that truth. An example of this is when Treplev kills the seagull (Nina's symbol of freedom) and lays it at her feet. Nina accuses Treplev of talking "in symbols," a charge that could just as easily be aimed at Chekhov. The dead bird is a symbol of Nina's lost freedom; she is "caught" by Treplev even though he does not love her; the dead bird is also a symbol of Treplev's inability to truly understand Nina; you can also think of the dead animal as way in which humans pervert nature in an attempt to make it mean what they want. None of these interpretations really speak to the problem these characters have, however, which is that they exist in a society that prevents actual human connection.

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The Seagull (1895) is a play written by the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, and it is representative of his dramatic style. Naturalism in theater is a style that aims to create verisimilitude, or the illusion of reality, through character, acting, language, and dramatic structure.

In naturalism, the actions of each character arise directly from the environment and time period that the playwright sets them in. In The Seagull, we see no clear protagonist but an array of characters who are quietly desperate to transcend their personal sense of failure and dissatisfaction. Similar to the Russian zeitgeist of the late nineteenth century, these characters complain and joke about needed personal and societal changes but are ineffectual in making these changes. True to naturalism, these characters represent the working class, artist class, and the bourgeoisie. Furthermore, the acting style employed in many productions of The Seagull is psychological realism, which is focused on the motivations of the characters.

The language in The Seagull mimics reality by presenting speech that you might overhear out of the mouths of late nineteenth century Russian bourgeoisie. This speech is full of unfinished sentences, interruptions, pauses, and conversational phrases. Moreover, underneath the speech there is frequently a subtext at work, revealing that characters do not always say what they mean—just like people in real life. 

The dramatic structure of The Seagull does not follow a traditional Aristotelian arc, where the action of the play culminates in a singular climax and then resolves. Instead, the structure is closer to a feeling of real life, where dramatic tension is pulled taught by the conflicting desires of a network of characters.

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