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The Seagull is a typical Chekhovian drama, part of a sub-genre which could be referred to as an “undramatic drama”. It has little plot, and most of the plot’s place is taken up by psychological portraits, lyricism, and a certain, truly ungraspable atmosphere, built up in the harsh realities of the Russian 19th century. Action is replaced by conversation, and the well-known, humorous dialogues of the era are replaced by the staccato style of speaking of the main characters.
The drama is built around one family, and their little community’s web of relationships, and is represented through a line of situation and conversations, as if the whole plot is a line of genre paintings, representing just moments of the lives of the characters. The outline of the first three acts is that of Arkadina and Trigorin’s one week vacation, and their departure from Sorin’s estate. In neither of the acts can a traditional, informational exposition, in the very first scene we see a stage being built, which’s symbolism is not be forgotten about, as we see this very stage described as being broken, and looking like a skeleton in the ending scene, thus making it an important symbol, and a key to setting the atmosphere of the book. In this first act the basic tone is already revealed to be negative, with the first conversation starting off with the question; “Why does she always wear black?”. Soon thereafter the dramatic plot unfolds, as we see a circle of unfulfilled loves appear. The loves are unfulfillable by nature, and their tones differ too, which start off with Nina, who is loved by Treplyov fall in love with Trigorin which then forms the aforementioned circle. Medvedenko falls in love Masha, who in turn loves Treplyov, who does Nina, whose heart chooses Trigorin, who despite being volatile stays inseparable from Arkadina, who wouldn’t let him go anyway.
This way The Seagull has no clear main character, all are equally important, with all of their lives being a single tragic fate. They all know each other’s relations, everyone takes part in everyone else’s lives, everyone is unhappy, wishful, but everyone loves, but also loves someone else than who loves them. The only way of self-actualization is through art, but in their personal lives even the best artists suffer – their loves are only a source of pain.
The character portraits are descriptive, and each represent a part of the time’s Russian society. Arkadina is comprised of all the negatives of actresses, she is banal, full of clichés, and hysterically overreacting. All conversations are an opportunity for acting to her, and her personality’s main traits are the borderline ridiculous egoism, opportunism and selfishness which includes stinginess too. When talking to her equals she is either overly endearing, or condescending, however with her son she is cold and dismissive. Trigorin, her love, is a mediocre, but successful writer, who is uncommunicative and reserved, but also vain. This is well shown when he only reads his own writings. He sees everything as a way of gaining experience, which makes him unscrupulous and vicious. The only things keeping him together with Arkadina is that he is too lazy to do anything else. He works almost constantly, gathers material for his works, but is also never satisfied with them. His confessions in the second act are sort of self-portrait by Chekhov. Treplyov, Arkadina’s son is suffering from constant lack of love, and is ambivalent towards his mother: he admires, but hates her. He is a romantic revolutionary, representative of a new style in playwriting, and claims in the first act that “Life must be represented not as it is, but as it ought to be; as it appears in dreams”. Despite finding a way out of his artistic crisis later on, the crisis of his personal life is never solved, and his love for Nina is never requited. Out of all the characters in the book, Nina is the only one with the capability to actually change her fate, and due to her nature as a naive, average citizen she creates herself opportunity through fight and suffering. The only honest character is Masha, who openly admits Dorn his love of Treplyov, however despite her openness Dorn first tries to laugh it off, and then flees from further discussion. All words of every character represent their inner state of mind, and the author often paints entire psychoanalytic pictures with sentences, or gestures.
Other Chekhovian elements include a new type of dialogue, where the characters go silent, disregard others’ words, and confessions. The book also includes a number of lyrical references, such as a Hamlet parallelism, or the mentioning of Zola or Tolstoy. This concludes with Nina finding a Tolstoyian outlook by the end, saying “it is not the honor and glory of which I have dreamt that is important, it is the strength to endure. One must know how to bear one’s cross, and one must have faith.” The seagull symbolism which acts as the focal point of the book, consummates through association of ideas, and sets the undertone of the atmosphere. First it appears in Nina’s simple simile, “this lake attracts me as it does the gulls”. The first time as an actual object it is after Treplyov has shot it, and acts as a symbol for his self-picture. After the series of Nina’s failures, she signs her letters as “Seagull”, and in her ending monologues, refers to herself the same way. The Seagull symbol not only means the new type of young artists and their modern ways, namely Treplyov and Nina, but the dead and stuffed Seagull shot by Treplyov also acts as a symbol for his and Nina’s dead love, and the dying style of art of Trigorin and Arkadina, which only resembles reality, and is not actually real, just like the relationship of the two of them.
Altogether, Chekhov’s “The Seagull” represents a new style of drama writing, which is more down-to-earth, and realistic than previous styles, hence the name of the era, “Realism”. It focuses more on the harsh truths of life, and his characters are not heroes. They are average people, nothing interesting happens in their lives. Chekhov did not want to find solutions for his characters either, he believed the writer has to be an opinionless witness of the events, but cannot judge the written person. In his undramatic dramas the conflicts do not happen between the characters, but inside each of their minds. After hearing the gunshot at the end, no one acknowledges the tragedy, and it gets further negated by Dorn, who exclaims “A flask of ether has exploded”. This sort of realist critique of the society he lived in has cause a stir in his time, which was reflected in the reception of his art as well. The first time it was performed in theatre was a failure – maybe the audience found what they had seen too similar to their lives.
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