W O R L D
Analysis of Chekhov's The Seagull
The Seagull is a play written by Anton Chekhov. The version I read was translated by Stark Young. I will first give some background information on Chekhov and this play before discussing it and analyzing the characters.
Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) was born of peasant stock in Taganrog, Russia. He began writing at age twenty and received his degree of Doctor of Medicine four years later. His sixth play, The Seagull, was finished in 1895. Its first production failed at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in Petersburg. However, it was produced the next year by the Moscow Art Theatre and was greeted with much enthusiasm. It always took many productions for any of his plays to gain any real notoriety (Young, liii-liv).
The Seagull is a comedy consisting of four acts, of which the first three take place within a week and the fourth occurs two years later. The scene remains basically the same. All of the action takes place at the country home of one of the characters, but it varies from outside in the park to inside in the study.
There are ten characters in the play, and all of them are connected in some way. Sorin is an older man in poor health. His sister Arcadina is an actress, and her son Constantine writes plays. Sorin's steward is Shamreyeff who has a wife, Pauline, and a daughter, Masha. Young Nina is also an actress; Trigorin a writer; Dorn a doctor; and Medvedenko a schoolmaster.
Because Chekhov wrote sketches, this play does not follow a specific storyline nor does it have a distinguished plot. It begins with Nina performing in a play which Constantine wrote and ends with his death. The action is not what I want to focus on however. I am interested in analyzing the relationships between all the characters and their own personal characteristics.
The first two characters introduced in the play are Medvedenko and Masha. He is quite devoted to her and follows her around like a puppy dog. They eventually marry and have a baby. Medvedenko is so strongly under Masha's spell that he sees no wrong in her. In Act Four, she wants to stay at Sorin's and play cards, but he decides to go home to be with the baby whom they haven't seen in three days. Masha's father will not let Medvedenko take one of the horses so he decides to walk. He is even apologetic about the entire incident: "It's only four miles...I should not have troubled anybody" (Chekhov, 101).
Unlike Medvedenko's dependence, Masha stands on her own. However, she is living in as much of a fantasy world as he. When asked why she always wears black, Masha replies, "I am in mourning for my life" (Chekhov, 3). She is never truly happy with her situation. She is in love with Constantine but marries Medvedenko with the rationale that it will help her forget her fascination with Constantine. She doesn't even care about her own child which I would consider an aspect of being not only self-centered but also full of self-pity.
Masha's parents, Shamreyeff and Pauline, play a small role, although it is interesting to note that Pauline and Dr. Dorn have a secret attraction which they keep from Shamreyeff. They discuss telling him but of course never do. Dorn is one of Constatnine's few admirers as far as playwriting is concerned. He is somewhat of a father figure, comforting both Constantine and Masha in their times of distress. He is always observant as to everyone's mannerisms, especially "How nervous they all are!" (Chekhov, 34).
Sorin is perhaps the character who is least understood by the other characters. His health is failing, but everyone assumes that because of his position as a lieutenant for over twenty years, he is happy with how his life turned out. At the end however, he half-jokingly makes a suggestion for his nephew Constantine's story-writing. He calls it "The Man Who Wanted To," (Chekhov, 93) referring to the fact that he never accomplished his dreams of becoming an author, speaking eloquently, marrying, and living in town. He still manages to joke about his situation, though, which makes him my favorite character. He does not have to ramble incessantly and draw attention for his unhappiness. Instead, aside from that last plea for understanding, he remains quiet and just observes the events which occur in his home.
Sorin's sister Arcadina, on the other hand, is quite outspoken. When Constantine attempts to present his play, she continuously interrupts with smart remarks. Then she is amazed that her son takes offense. She is well-known for her past acting performances and uses that as an ego boost and justification for being snooty toward everyone. She even claims to love Trigorin who of course is infatuated with her.
But Trigorin cannot really be trusted either because he is such a jigilo. His plays are quite famous so he also uses his notoriety as an excuse to be flighty toward women. He hooks up with Nina when they go to Moscow, but then dumps her. Yet he still gains admiration from all the other characters.
By far the two weakest characters in The Seagull are Constantine and Nina. Constantine is the least stable of everyone. He tries to shoot himself once and then succeeds at the end. He is desperately in love with Nina and tells her so: "It's not in my power to stop loving you...I kiss the ground you walk on, I see your face wherever I look" (Chekhov, 111). Not only is he rejected by her, his plays do not bring him much fame either. And it does not help for his mother to be his main critic.
Likewise, Nina is a young aspiring actress who never becomes successful. She runs away from her father and step-mother to perform in Moscow. She has a baby who dies after her fling with Trigorin. If she does have talent, it is not appreciated because she comes back after two years. She considers herself to be a sea gull and even signs her letters to Constantine as the sea gull. Before leaving him for the final time, she asks him: "Do you remember, you shot a sea gull? A man comes by chance, sees it, and out of nothing else to do, destroys it" (Chekhov, 113). I believe this is how Nina viewed her life. No matter what she did, it was taken the wrong way or not accepted at all, and therefore destroyed. Her career, her relationships, her baby. Constantine was the same except he took it to the extreme. He was never pleased with his own work and could never please his one true love. So for lack of any better solution, he destroyed his life by shooting himself.
I enjoyed reading Chekhov's work because it involves so much without really having any action. It is a simple sketch of the events and dialogue of ten people's lives, and yet the characters and their personalities are much more complex than what is spelled out in the play. This is the kind of stuff we psychology majors thrive on!