In the novel’s fourth part, Jonathan Livingston Seagull has departed from the earth, leaving his protégé, Fletcher Lynd Seagull, in charge of training new pupils in flight, aerodynamics, and the transcendence of the physical realm through synchronization of mind, body, and spirit. In the wake of Jonathan’s departure, the gull—who was already considered “Divine” during his time on earth—is veritably deified, made into a holy icon who embodied truth and transcendence. Anyone close to Jonathan is given similar status—especially Fletcher. When Fletcher at last dies, he leaves no body behind, simply vanishing into thin air. Confused, the rest of his pupils come together in mourning and begin telling tales of how the Gull Fletcher was brought up to heaven when Jonathan Livingston Seagull descended from heaven in opulent plumes and a crown of pebbles to bring his favorite student up to the “Beach of Oneness.” Fletcher’s devastated adherents deem the last rock he was seen standing on the “Rock of Oneness,” and begin leaving piles of pebbles on the rock in a show of mourning. Soon, the pile grows too large for the rock, and so other piles spring up in tribute all along the coastline. The pebbles are left not only in Fletcher’s name, but in the name of all the other deceased pupils of Jonathan, as well as Jonathan Livingston Seagull himself. In time, leaving a pebble at one of these shrines becomes a way to show off one’s holiness and “oneness,” despite the fact that the gesture is, in fact, empty.
As so much of the fourth part of the novel is an allegory concerned with the misinterpretation of doctrine and the emptiness of religious ritual, pebbles symbolize all the misguided ways in which not only the gulls of the novel but the people of the real world choose empty gestures and meaningless symbols to stand in for actual kindness, love, education, and goodness to others. Pebbles symbolize how, throughout the centuries, Jonathan’s actual legacy has morphed into something unrecognizable—Jonathan wanted other gulls to use his teachings to connect with one another, test their own limits, and achieve self-possession; he had no interest in glory, hagiography, or being revered. The pebbles left at Jonathan’s shrines symbolize how the flocks of the world have missed the point of Jonathan’s teachings, or otherwise perverted them for their own cloudy ideas about creating and asserting status.
Pebbles Quotes in Jonathan Livingston Seagull
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.
“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?"