Treplev is a twentysomething only child of the famous actress, Irina Arkadina. In the first act of the play, he is anxious and vulnerable about the reception of his first play which he wrote, produced, and directed for presentation by the lake of his uncle Sorin's farm. Because Treplev's mother is such a success in the theater and her lover, Trigorin is a successful writer, Treplev puts a tremendous amount of pressure on himself and the reception of his play. Treplev does not respect the melodramatic morality plays in which Arkadina starred, but instead he searches for a higher form of playwriting that expresses philosophy and observation of mankind and existence in the universe. It is clear from the first act that Treplev's determination to create a new artistic form is directly linked to his overwhelming desire to earn his mother's approval, affection, and love.
Perhaps because she spent her time on the road touring in plays and because her extreme form of vanity causes her to spend more time doting on herself than on her son, it became necessary for Treplev to get Arkadina's attention and approval. Though he wants his mother's admiration, Treplev attempts to gain it on his own terms. He does not write a melodrama or classically structured play, nor does he write a part for Arkadina. On the contrary, Treplev chooses to write daring, abstract material and cast their neighbor, Nina, a young and beautiful girl who steals attention away from Arkadina. Treplev is not willing to adapt his tastes and opinions to Arkadina's liking to gain her favor but wants to be accepted for who he is and his own work independently of her fame.
Early on in the play, Treplev complains about his alienation from his mother's friends and companions in the city who comprise the intelligentsia because he has yet to establish himself in his own right. He is also depressed because he is madly in love with Nina who, in the first act, seems more interested in what she can gain from knowing Treplev and not in his love. Treplev wants love and fame, both entities that his mother, Arkadina, possesses. Ironically, Treplev is as self-obsessed as his mother and barely notices or appreciates the compliments he receives from Dorn and Sorin about his failed play. Treplev, like his unrequited fan, Masha, reminds us of the type of person we all know who enjoys being upset more than being happy but complains about it anyway.
Treplev is sometimes considered a Hamletlike character because of the parallel relationship between him, Arkadina, and Trigorin with Shakespeare's characters of Hamlet, Gertrude, and Claudius. The characters in The Seagull even mention quotes from Hamlet in the first act when Arkadina shows off her acting and teases Treplev.
Later, in Act Four when he becomes a published writer, Treplev still feels empty without Nina. He desires Nina's love even after she left him for his mother's lover and kills himself over a pile of ripped manuscripts when she shows herself to be incapable of loving him back once again. Treplev fills the void of love in his life by taking his life into his own hands.
Arkadina is one of the four central protagonists of The Seagull. She is a middle-aged woman who is still beautiful but whose beauty and fame have passed their prime. Arkadina is a member of the aristocracy in Russia though her first marriage was to a man who was from Kiev indicating a lower status than her own. This was her son Treplev's father. In several ways, Arkadina considers herself better than her son. Her views are selfish, hypocritical, and self-serving. For instance, Arkadina thinks less of Treplev because he is born of a father from Kiev, but it is this man from Kiev whom she loved and with whom she bore a child that supposedly taints, Treplev. Arkadina is a successful stage actress and lover of a famous writer, Trigorin. This places her in the other aristocracy of Russia, the intelligentsia and artistic elite.
This elite group of artists and intellectuals forms her social group in Moscow to which her son, Treplev to prove himself. Arkadina does nothing to help her son's confidence or sense of belonging within her circle. She does not want her son taking any of the limelight away from herself. Arkadina expects others to listen to her brag about her achievements constantly, but she will not give an inch to Treplev. She is skeptical, unsympathetic, noisy, and demeaning when it comes to Treplev's play.
Arkadina's hypocracy makes her a likeable, flawed character because her flaws are extreme and contrary. In Act Four when Treplev has become a published author, Arkadina admits to never making the effort to read one of her son's stories. When it comes to her lover Trigorin however, Arkadina is doting, attentive, and loving. At the thought that he might leave her for Nina, Arkadina begs and pleads with him on her knees, spewing compliments and kisses. Arkadina is as needy as her son but seeks her love from admirers, fans and lovers, not her own flesh and blood.
Chekhov describes his play as a comedy, and Arkadina is vital in his description's assessment. She is not a villain or a hero. She proves herself to be excessively vain and miserly. At times, Arkadina shows a glimmer of compassion as when she cares for Treplev's head wound, when she encourages Nina to be an actress and when she screams in fright at the fear of her brother, Sorin's dizzy spell.
Nina is the first character in The Seagull to mention a seagull. She compares herself to a seagull that is drawn to the lake, which borders Sorin's estate and her parents' house next door. When Nina returns to Treplev she still loves Trigorin, not Treplev. She is wiser and stronger than when she is first introduced in Act One as an idealistic and fawning dreamer who longs to be a professional actress. But as Nina repeatedly says, "I am the seagull," in a confused and worn state, she reminds us of how much she has changed and how much the different characters handled the disappointments in their lives in the play. Nina, unlike Treplev, is able to continue living through her pain and disappointment. She can go on and live her life while he kills himself for witnessing her ability to do so without needing him.