The Seagull

by

Anton Chekhov

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The Gull Symbol Analysis

The Gull  Symbol Icon

The gull represents Nina Zarechnaya’s loss of innocence and freedom. Konstantin Treplyov—hopelessly mired in unrequited love for Nina, his muse and neighbor—brings her a gull that he has “slain” with a rifle. He drops the bird at her feet as a kind of offering, warning her that he will soon “kill [him]self the very same way.” When Boris Trigorin approaches Nina and sees the gull, he notes that the dead gull is a compelling symbol he’d like to use in a story: a story about a girl who grows up, just like Nina, on the shores of a lake, “happy and free” as a bird, until a man who has “nothing better to do” comes along and destroys her—just as Treplyov destroyed the gull. Though Treplyov hoped to give Nina the gull as an expression of how she had destroyed him with her indifference, it is transformed into a symbol of Nina’s own destruction at the hands of a man who cares little for her—Trigorin himself. As the play unfolds, Nina follows Trigorin to Moscow in hopes of living an idyllic, artistic life as his mistress and muse, only to find herself impoverished and unable to find work as an actress. She has a child with Trigorin, the child dies and Trigorin abandons her. After this, Nina sends Treplyov letters which she signs “The Gull,” implying that she, too, has come to view herself as akin to this lifeless bird, as she has sacrificed her wellbeing and endured great tragedy just to follow Trigorin and conform to his whims.

Years later, when she returns to the countryside utterly defeated, she reunites with Treplyov, but she is no longer the beautiful, carefree girl she once was. Nina is confused and depressed as she recounts to Treplyov her doomed affair with Trigorin and the years of mediocrity, failure, and humiliation which have followed it. Even later in the play, it is revealed that Trigorin ordered Shamraev to stuff Treplyov’s slain gull and display it at Sorin’s country home—further suggesting that Trigorin has found some kind of reassurance or even perverse delight in his power to subjugate and control Nina. Ultimately, in spite of her fears that she has become the gull, Nina rebels against this identity when she says “I’m a gull. No, that’s wrong.” Nina has survived through a harsh industry and an even harsher personal life. Though she has suffered immensely in her relationships with Trigorin and Treplyov, she rejects the notion that she, like the gull, is doomed to a state of lifelessness and paralysis due to her struggles.

The Gull Quotes in The Seagull

The The Seagull quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Gull . 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:
Art vs. Fame Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the W. W. Norton & Company edition of The Seagull published in 2010.
Act 2 Quotes

TREPLYOV: (Enters bare-headed, carrying a rifle and a slain gull.) You’re alone here?

NINA: Alone. (TREPLYOV lays the gull at her feet.) What does this mean?

TREPLYOV: I did something nasty, I killed this gull today. I lay it at your feet.

NINA: What’s wrong with you? (Picks up the gull and stares at it.)

TREPLYOV: (After a pause) I’ll soon kill myself the very same way.

Related Characters: Nina Mikhailovna Zarechnaya (speaker), Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplyov (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Gull
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

TRIGORIN: Just jotting down a note… A subject came to mind… (Putting away the notebook.) Subject for a short story: on the shores of a lake a young girl grows up, just like you; loves the lake, like a gull, is happy and free, like a gull. But by chance a man comes along, sees her, and, having nothing better to do, destroys her, just like this gull here.

Related Symbols: The Gull
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4 Quotes

SHAMRAEV: (To Trigorin.) Hey, Boris Alekseevich, that thing of yours is still here.

TRIGORIN: What thing?

SHAMRAEV: A while back Konstantin Gavrilovich shot a gull, and you asked me to have it stuffed.

TRIGORIN: Don’t remember. (Thinking about it.) Don’t remember!

Related Symbols: The Gull
Page Number: 153-154
Explanation and Analysis:

NINA: You can’t imagine what that’s like, when you realize your acting is terrible. I’m a gull. No, that’s wrong… Remember when you shot down a gull? By chance a man comes along, sees, and with nothing better to do destroys… Subject for a short story. That’s wrong… (Rubs her forehead.) What was I saying?... I was talking about the stage. I’m not like that now… Now I’m a real actress… […] Now I know, understand, Kostya, that in our work—it doesn’t matter whether we act or we write—the main thing isn’t fame, glamour, the things I dreamed about, it’s knowing how to endure.

Related Symbols: The Gull
Page Number: 159-160
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Gull Symbol Timeline in The Seagull

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Gull appears in The Seagull. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Art vs. Fame Theme Icon
Unrequited Love Theme Icon
...like her coming down to the “bohemian” lake estate, she’s drawn to it “like a gull”—being around Treplyov and his family of artists fills her heart. Treplyov tells Nina that he... (full context)
Act 2
Unrequited Love Theme Icon
Treplyov approaches Nina, “carrying a rifle and a slain gull.” After confirming that Nina is alone, he sets the gull down at her feet. Nina... (full context)
Unrequited Love Theme Icon
Ego and the Self Theme Icon
Mediocrity and Lost Potential Theme Icon
...the country a little while longer. Looking out across the lawn, he spots the dead gull on the ground and asks what it’s doing there. Nina replies that Treplyov killed it.... (full context)
Act 3
Art vs. Fame Theme Icon
Unrequited Love Theme Icon
Ego and the Self Theme Icon
...the bright day last week when they were talking by the lake, near the dead gull lying on the ground. Nina hears someone coming, and hurries form the room—but asks Trigorin... (full context)
Act 4
Art vs. Fame Theme Icon
Unrequited Love Theme Icon
Ego and the Self Theme Icon
Mediocrity and Lost Potential Theme Icon
...never wanted to see him—but would often write him letters, which she would sign “ The Gull .” (full context)
Art vs. Fame Theme Icon
Unrequited Love Theme Icon
Ego and the Self Theme Icon
Mediocrity and Lost Potential Theme Icon
...he means, and Shamraev replies that "a while back,” Trigorin asked him to have a gull that Treplyov shot stuffed. Trigorin says he doesn’t remember any such thing. He wins the... (full context)
Art vs. Fame Theme Icon
Unrequited Love Theme Icon
Ego and the Self Theme Icon
Mediocrity and Lost Potential Theme Icon
...talk.” She asks if he can hear the wind raging outside, and says she’s “a gull” before second-guessing herself and saying she was “wrong” to call herself one. She tries to... (full context)
Art vs. Fame Theme Icon
Unrequited Love Theme Icon
Ego and the Self Theme Icon
Mediocrity and Lost Potential Theme Icon
...begins rambling and babbling again, speaking in half-sentences as she refers to herself as a “gull,” then an actress. She begins speaking about her affair with Trigorin, though she doesn’t mention... (full context)
Unrequited Love Theme Icon
Ego and the Self Theme Icon
...disarray throughout the room. Shamraev goes over to a cupboard and pulls out the stuffed gull. He shows it to Trigorin, asking if Trigorin remembers asking him to stuff it—Trigorin stares... (full context)