Jonathan Livingston Seagull

by

Richard Bach

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Jonathan Livingston Seagull Character Analysis

The protagonist of the novel, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, often called Jon by his friends and students, is a bird who is different from all the other members of his Flock of gulls. Obsessed with flight, Jonathan does not see the point in flying slowly and gracelessly only in pursuit of food. As Jonathan studies flight on his own, his aerodynamics, speed, and abilities improve. However, his feats do not impress the other gulls in his Flock—rather, they render him Outcast, and he is banished to the Far Cliffs. Jonathan meets two shimmering gulls, and is transported up to another realm, where special gulls go to train and learn about their place in the world. With the help of Chiang, the Elder Gull, Jonathan begins to see past the limits of his body. As he realizes that his mind, spirit, and body exist across all of space and time, he masters instantaneous transportation. He brings the things he has learned back to earth and gathers a small group of pupils whom he instructs in flight. One day, feeling he has succeeded in his mission but wary of the rumors that he is divine, or even the Son of the mythical Great Gull, Jonathan begins to shimmer and ascends to heaven, leaving his legacy in the hands of his star pupil and friend Fletcher Lynd Seagull. In the years after Jonathan’s passing, his methods—against all odds—become revered the world over, and the worshipful cult of personality that crops up around Jonathan feverishly overtakes the earth. Jonathan is humble but ambitious, and his curiosity, drive, and desire to help others above all else—combined with the misinterpretation of his messages and his simultaneous deification—make him an analog and an allegory for the biblical figure of Jesus Christ.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Quotes in Jonathan Livingston Seagull

The Jonathan Livingston Seagull quotes below are all either spoken by Jonathan Livingston Seagull or refer to Jonathan Livingston Seagull. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Individualism vs. Collectivism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of Jonathan Livingston Seagull published in 2014.
Part One Quotes

Most gulls don't bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight—how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight. More than anything else, Jonathan Livingston Seagull loved to fly.

Related Characters: Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

[Jonathan] felt better for his decision to be just another one of the flock. There would be no ties now to the force that had driven him to learn, there would be no more challenge and no more failure. And it was pretty, just to stop thinking, and fly through the dark, toward the lights above the beach.

Related Characters: Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

The wind was a monster roar at his head. Seventy miles per hour, ninety, a hundred and twenty and faster still. The wing-strain now at a hundred and forty miles per hour wasn’t nearly as hard as it had been before at seventy, and with the faintest twist of his wingtips he eased out of the dive and shot above the waves, a gray cannonball under the moon. He closed his eyes to slits against the wind and rejoiced. A hundred forty miles per hour! And under control! If I dive from five thousand feet instead of two thousand, I wonder how fast […] His vows of a moment before were forgotten, swept away in that great swift wind. Yet he felt guiltless, breaking the promises he had made himself. Such promises are only for the gulls that accept the ordinary. One who has touched excellence in his learning has no need of that kind of promise.

Related Characters: Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

He was alive, trembling ever so slightly with delight, proud that his fear was under control. Then without ceremony he hugged in his forewings, extended his short, angled wingtips, and plunged directly toward the sea. By the time he passed four thousand feet he had reached terminal velocity, the wind was a solid beating wall of sound against which he could move no faster. He was flying now straight down, at two hundred fourteen miles per hour. He swallowed, knowing that if his wings unfolded at that speed he'd be blown into a million tiny shreds of seagull. But the speed was power, and the speed was joy, and the speed was pure beauty.

Related Characters: Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Page Number: 15-16
Explanation and Analysis:

"Jonathan Livingston Seagull! Stand to Center!" The Elder's words sounded in a voice of highest ceremony. Stand to Center meant only great shame or great honor. Stand to Center for Honor was the way the gulls' foremost leaders were marked. Of course, he thought, the Breakfast Flock this morning; they saw the Breakthrough! But I want no honors. I have no wish to be leader. I want only to share what I've found, to show those horizons out ahead for us all. He stepped forward.

"Jonathan Livingston Seagull," said the Elder, "Stand to Center for Shame in the sight of your fellow gulls!"

It felt like being hit with a board. His knees went weak, his feathers sagged, there was roaring in his ears. Centered for shame? Impossible! The Breakthrough! They can't understand! They're wrong, they're wrong!

Related Characters: Jonathan Livingston Seagull (speaker), Elder Gull (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

Jonathan Seagull spent the rest of his days alone, but he flew way out beyond the Far Cliffs. His one sorrow was not solitude, it was that other gulls refused to believe the glory of flight that awaited them; they refused to open their eyes and see. He learned more each day. He learned that a streamlined high-speed dive could bring him to find the rare and tasty fish that schooled ten feet below the surface of the ocean: he no longer needed fishing boats and stale bread for survival. He learned to sleep in the air, setting a course at night across the offshore wind, covering a hundred miles from sunset to sunrise. With the same inner control, he flew through heavy sea-fogs and climbed above them into dazzling clear skies […] in the very times when every other gull stood on the ground, knowing nothing but mist and rain. He learned to ride the high winds far inland, to dine there on delicate insects. What he had once hoped for the Flock, he now gained for himself alone; he learned to fly, and was not sorry for the price that he had paid. Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the reasons that a gull's life is so short, and with these gone from his thought, he lived a long fine life indeed.

Related Characters: Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Page Number: 25-26
Explanation and Analysis:
Part Two Quotes

“Do you have any idea how many lives we must have gone through before we even got the first idea that there is more to life than eating, or fighting, or power in the Flock? A thousand lives, Jon, ten thousand! And then another hundred lives until we began to learn that there is such a thing as perfection, and another hundred again to get the idea that our purpose for living is to find that perfection and show it forth. The same rule holds for us now, of course: we choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome."

Related Characters: Sullivan (speaker), Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

"I want to learn to fly like that," Jonathan said, and a strange light glowed in his eyes. "Tell me what to do."

Chiang spoke slowly and watched the younger gull ever so carefully. "To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is," he said, "you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived." The trick, according to Chiang, was for Jonathan to stop seeing himself as trapped inside a limited body that had a forty-two-inch wingspan and performance that could be plotted on a chart. The trick was to know that his true nature lived, as perfect as an unwritten number, everywhere at once across space and time.

Jonathan kept at it, fiercely, day after day, from before sunrise till past midnight. And for all his effort he moved not a feather-width from his spot.

"Forget about faith!" Chiang said it time and again. "You didn't need faith to fly, you needed to understand flying. This is just the same. Now try again. […]"

Then one day Jonathan, standing on the shore, closing his eyes, concentrating, all in a flash knew what Chiang had been telling him. "Why, that's true! I am a perfect, unlimited gull!" He felt a great shock of joy.

"Good!" said Chiang, and there was victory in his voice. Jonathan opened his eyes. He stood alone with the Elder on a totally different seashore—trees down to the water's edge, twin yellow suns turning overhead.

Related Characters: Jonathan Livingston Seagull (speaker), Chiang (speaker)
Page Number: 56-57
Explanation and Analysis:

Jonathan stayed and worked with the new birds coming in, who were all very bright and quick with their lessons. But the old feeling came back, and he couldn't help but think that there might be one or two gulls back on Earth who would be able to learn, too. How much more would he have known by now if Chiang had come to him on the day that he was Outcast!

“Sully, I must go back," [Jonathan] said at last. "Your students are doing well. They can help you bring the newcomers along."

Sullivan sighed, but he did not argue. "l think I'll miss you, Jonathan," was all he said.

"Sully, for shame!" Jonathan said in reproach, "and don't be foolish! What are we trying to practice every day? lf our friendship depends on things like space and time, then when we finally overcome space and time, we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?"

Related Characters: Jonathan Livingston Seagull (speaker), Sullivan (speaker), Chiang
Page Number: 60-61
Explanation and Analysis:

Fletcher Lynd Seagull was still quite young, but already he knew that no bird had ever been so harshly treated by any Flock, or with so much injustice.

"l don't care what they say," he thought fiercely, and his vision blurred as he flew out toward the Far Cliffs. "There's so much more to flying than just flapping around from place to place! A... a ... mosquito does that! One little barrel-roll around the Elder Gull, just for fun, and I’m Outcast! Are they blind? Can't they see? Can't they think of the glory that it'll be when we really learn to fly?

"l don't care what they think. I'll show them what flying is! I'll be pure Outlaw, if that's the way they want it. And I'll make them so sorry […]."

The voice came inside his own head, and though it was very gentle, it startled him so much that he faltered and stumbled in the air.

"Don't be harsh on them, Fletcher Seagull. ln casting you out, the other gulls have only hurt themselves, and one day they will know this, and one day they will see what you see. Forgive them, and help them to understand."

An inch from his right wingtip flew the most brilliant white gull in all the world, gliding effortlessly along, not moving a feather, at what was very nearly Fletcher's top speed.

There was a moment of chaos in the young bird.

"What's going on? Am I mad? Am I dead? What is this?"

Low and calm, the voice went on within his thought, demanding an answer. "Fletcher Lynd Seagull, do you want to fly?"

"YES, I WANT TO FLY!"

Related Characters: Jonathan Livingston Seagull (speaker), Fletcher Lynd Seagull (speaker), Elder Gull
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:
Part Three Quotes

It was only a month later that Jonathan said the time had come to return to the Flock.

"We're not ready!" said Henry Calvin Gull. "We're not welcome! We're Outcast! We can't force ourselves to go where we're not welcome, can we?"

"We're free to go where we wish and to be what we are," Jonathan answered, and he lifted from the sand and turned east, toward the home grounds of the Flock.

Related Characters: Jonathan Livingston Seagull (speaker), Henry Calvin Gull (speaker)
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

"To begin with," he said heavily, "you've got to understand that a seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull, and your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip, is nothing more than your thought itself."

The young gulls looked at him quizzically. Hey, man, they thought, this doesn't sound like a rule for a loop.

Fletcher sighed and started over. "Hm. Ah […] very well," he said, and eyed them critically. "Let's begin with Level Flight." And saying that, he understood all at once that his friend had quite honestly been no more divine than Fletcher himself.

Related Characters: Fletcher Lynd Seagull (speaker), Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:
Part Four Quotes

When Fletcher didn't show up on the beach in the next week, when he vanished without leaving a note, the Flock was in brief consternation. But then they gathered together, and thought, and decided what must have happened. It was announced that Gull Fletcher had been seen, surrounded by the other Seven First Students, standing on what would henceforth be known as the Rock of Oneness, and then the clouds had parted and the Great Gull Jonathan Livingston Seagull himself, clad in royal plumes and golden shells, with a crown of precious pebbles upon his brow, pointing symbolically to sky and sea and wind and earth, had called him up to the Beach of Oneness and

Fletcher had magically risen, surrounded by holy rays, and the clouds had closed again over the scene to a great chorus of gull-voices singing.

And so the pile of pebbles on the Rock of Oneness, in sacred memory of Gull Fletcher, was the biggest pile of pebbles on any coastline anywhere on earth. Other piles were built everywhere in replica, and each Tuesday afternoon the Flock walked over to stand around the pebbles and hear the miracles of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and his Gifted Divine Students.

Related Symbols: Pebbles
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

“Now look," [Anthony] had told his official Local Student, "the birds who come to hear you every Tuesday come for three reasons, don't they? Because they think they're learning something; because they think that putting another pebble on the Cairn is going to make them holy; or because everybody else expects them to be there. Right?"

“And you have nothing to learn, my nestling?"

"No. There's something to learn, but I don't know what it is. A million pebbles can't make me holy if I don't deserve it, and I don't care what the other gulls think about me."

"And what is your answer, nestling?" ever so slightly shaken by this heresy. "How do you call the miracle of life? The Great-Gull-Jonathan-Holy-Be-His-Name said that flight […]."

"Life isn't a miracle, Official, it's a bore. Your Great Gull Jonathan is a myth somebody made up a long time ago, a fairy tale that the weak believe because they can't stand to face the world as it is. Imagine! A seagull who could fly two hundred miles per hour! I’ve tried it, and the fastest I can go is fifty, diving, and even then I'm mostly out of control. There are laws of flight that cannot be broken, and if you don't think so, you go out there and try it! Do you honestly believe—truly, now—that your great Jonathan Seagull flew two hundred miles per hour?"

Related Characters: Anthony Seagull (speaker), Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Related Symbols: Pebbles
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:
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Jonathan Livingston Seagull Character Timeline in Jonathan Livingston Seagull

The timeline below shows where the character Jonathan Livingston Seagull appears in Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One
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...to pick and fight for bits of food. Far away from all the action, however, Jonathan Livingston Seagull  practices his flight skills by himself. Most gulls only learn the “simplest facts... (full context)
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Because of how different he is from the other birds, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is not popular among his flock, and even his parents are disappointed by... (full context)
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Jonathan is practicing “blazing steep power-dives,” gathering speed as he plunges towards the ocean. With each... (full context)
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Jonathan’s pride in his victory, however, is short-lived; as soon as he begins his pullout from... (full context)
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As he flies, Jonathan feels good about his decision to be just another one of the flock. His life... (full context)
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Jonathan flies up once again to two thousand feet, and “without a moment for the thought... (full context)
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At sunup, Jonathan is back to practicing, now flying up to five thousand feet before diving. From such... (full context)
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At one thousand feet above the sea, Jonathan pulls out of his dive, but finds that he is about to fly right into... (full context)
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Jonathan returns to his lonely practice area and begins practicing diving from eight thousand feet, with... (full context)
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That night, when Jonathan joins his Flock on the beach, he is dizzy and tired, but delighted. He can’t... (full context)
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The Elder Gull calls Jonathan to Stand to Center—a command which Jonathan knows signals either great shame or great honor.... (full context)
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Jonathan’s knees go weak, and he feels as if he has been hit by a board.... (full context)
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Jonathan flies out beyond the Far Cliffs. His sorrow does not come from his newly imposed... (full context)
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Jonathan had hoped he’d be able to help the Flock discover all of these tricks, but... (full context)
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One evening, as Jonathan is gliding peacefully through the sky, two gulls “pure as starlight” appear at his wings.... (full context)
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Jonathan replies that he has no home or Flock because he is an outcast. He also... (full context)
Part Two
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As Jonathan joins the two other gulls and flies up to heaven, he realizes that his body... (full context)
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As the clouds break apart, Jonathan’s guides wish him “happy landings,” and then disappear. Jonathan is now flying over the sea... (full context)
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As the days go by, Jonathan realizes that there is as much to learn about flight in this place as there... (full context)
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One afternoon, Jonathan asks Sullivan, his instructor, why there aren’t more gulls in this heaven. Sullivan replies that... (full context)
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One night, up on the shore, Jonathan approaches Chiang, the Elder Gull of his new Flock. Whereas on Earth, the Elder Gull... (full context)
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Chiang says that Jonathan will at last begin to touch heaven in the moment that he touches perfect speed.... (full context)
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Jonathan is “dazzled” completely by Chiang’s skill, and asks how far Chiang can go. Chiang replies... (full context)
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As the days go by, Jonathan tries very hard to learn to fly like Chiang, but cannot move even an inch... (full context)
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When Jonathan returns to the original shore with Chiang, the other gulls congratulate him. Jonathan demurs, though,... (full context)
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A month or so passes, and Jonathan learns at a “tremendous rate.” As the special student of Chiang the Elder, Jonathan takes... (full context)
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As the days go by, Jonathan cannot stop thinking about Earth. As Jonathan learns more about love and kindness, he yearns... (full context)
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At last, Jonathan tells Sullivan that he feels he must go back to Earth. Sullivan tells Jonathan that... (full context)
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...them “know.” Fletcher softly says that he does. The “bright creature” next to him—who is Jonathan, returned to Earth—tells him that their lessons will begin right away. (full context)
Part Three
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Jonathan circles the Far Cliffs, watching as his new pupil, Fletcher, flies through the air. Fletcher... (full context)
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Three months have gone by, and now Jonathan has six other students—all Outcasts. Jonathan explains to his pupils that flying is a tool... (full context)
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A month later, despite his students’ slow progress, Jonathan tells them all that the time has come to return to the Flock. One of... (full context)
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Jonathan’s students watch him fly away, in turmoil over whether or not they should accompany him.... (full context)
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The birds, led by Jonathan, fly speedily and beautifully to the shore where their old Flock is gathered. They land... (full context)
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The Flock begins turning their backs on Jonathan, but he does not seem to notice, and instead begins training his own pupils directly... (full context)
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After the flying is done, Jonathan and his students gather together on the shore, and he lectures them about his ideas.... (full context)
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Jonathan and his pupils have been back for a month when the first gull from the... (full context)
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By sunrise, a thousand gulls have positioned themselves apart from the greater Flock, listening to Jonathan as he speaks of the nature of being, the glory of freedom, and the poisonous... (full context)
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One morning, Fletcher reports to Jonathan that the word in the Flock is that Jonathan is perhaps the Son of the... (full context)
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...strange sky. The voice within, the one he heard on the first day he met Jonathan, speaks to him. He realizes that the voice is Jonathan. Fletcher is surprised that he... (full context)
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...come to break up the Flock, and try to peck at him and harm him. Jonathan appears over Fletcher and asks if he would like to leave the squawking Flock, who... (full context)
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By the morning, the Flock has forgotten its insanity, but Fletcher has not—he asks Jonathan how it will be possible to love the Flock when they so angrily turned against... (full context)
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Jonathan’s body begins to shimmer in the air and become transparent. He begs Fletcher not to... (full context)
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...ascends to the sky and faces his brand-new group of students. He is devastated by Jonathan’s disappearance, but begins the lesson anyway. He urges his pupils to understand that “a seagull... (full context)
Part Four
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In the years after Jonathan Livingston Seagull’s departure, the Flock becomes the “strangest bunch of birds that ha[ve] ever lived... (full context)
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Fletcher and Jonathan’s other pupils begin making missionary journeys to every flock on the coastline, spreading their instructor’s... (full context)
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...and gulls flock to him just for the chance to touch someone who once touched Jonathan Seagull—who has achieved divine status in the minds of many birds on earth. Fletcher tries... (full context)
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...simply stand on the beach, reciting poems and histories about “the Divine One.” Fletcher and Jonathan’s other original pupils are puzzled, frightened, and even angry at the change, but are helpless... (full context)
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...other Seven First Students standing on the Rock of Oneness, and that the Great Gull Jonathan Livingston Seagull had descended from the sky dressed in opulent plumes and a crown of... (full context)
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...the coastline gather weekly at these sites to listen to and recount the miracles of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and his Gifted Divine Students. Hardly any flying is done anymore, and strange... (full context)
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...and run-on sentences are eventually seen not as mistakes but marks of excellence. Images of Jonathan are pecked into the cliffs all along the coastline, and nearly two hundred years later,... (full context)
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Gulls who resist these changes—“thinking gulls”—begin instinctively closing their minds to any mention of Jonathan, purposefully flying routes that allow them to avoid the pebble-laden shrines that have sprung up... (full context)
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...them to be there. Gulls like Anthony know there is something to be learned from Jonathan’s legacy, but do not know what that is. Anthony begins questioning whether the “Great Gull... (full context)
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Many other gulls go the way of Anthony—they reject the ritual and ceremony of Jonathan Seagull, and begin to believe that life is futile. One morning, flying along the sea... (full context)
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...a maneuver. Anthony asks the bird his name. The bird tells Anthony to call him “Jon.” (full context)