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The Seagull

Anton Chekhov

Important Quotations Explained

Second half of Act Four

Key Facts

I'm the seagull. No, that's not it. I'm an actress. That's it.

The seagull comes to mean several things during the course of the play. In Act Four, Nina uses the seagull Treplev shot in Act Two as a symbol of her fall from grace. She recently signed letter to Treplev not as "Nina" but as "The Seagull." Nina combines two ideas together to create her symbolic self- description of the seagull. The dominant reference is to Trigorin's metaphor of Nina as the seagull. She describes herself to Treplev as the seagull in confirmation of the tragic fact that Trigorin did attempt to ruin Nina exactly as he said he would in Act Two.

But Nina is not completely destroyed. Her fractured language sounds like the speech of a troubled soul, but amidst her rambling is sense and conviction. She has lost her innocence, her lover, a baby, and financial stability, but she has her pride and her will to endure. She refutes her original statement, "I'm the seagull," with "I'm an actress." Nina stays afloat by holding on to her dream, however disappointing it has turned out to be and takes pride in her ability to withstand her disappointment. This quote also refers to Pushkin's story about a miller who signs his name "The Raven." Chekhov puns "The Seagull" with "The Raven," commenting to his audience "No, that's not it," indicating that he knows he has ripped off of a commonly known subject.

I'm in mourning for my life.

Masha's reply to Medvedenko's question of why she wears black is a famous line in world drama. Her excessively melancholic response tickles a funny bone with its thoroughly pessimistic philosophy. Her terse and matter-of-fact reply juxtaposed to Medvedenko's eager pursuit of her heart proves funny because of her utter lack of interest in anything, let alone, Medvedenko.

This quotation also provides a sort of thesis for the play, laying the groundwork for an existential theme of questioning life's meaning and purpose which several characters actively seek to answer during the play.

Idea for a short story. The shore of a lake, a young girl who's spent her whole life beside it, a girl like you She loves the lake the way a seagull does, and she's happy and free as a seagull. Then a man comes along, sees her, and ruins her life because he has nothing better to do. Destroys her like this seagull here.

Trigorin describes his idea for a short story to Nina in Act Two. He metaphorically compares Nina to the seagull Treplev shot in the same act. With this blatant use of Nina's life for his story's protagonist, Trigorin exhibits his ability to take advantage of the lives around him for his own purposes. Trigorin made a successful career out of adapting what he witnesses around him into fictionalized accounts. He openly uses Nina and promises to continue to use her and then throw her away when he no longer needs her anymore. This is exactly what he ends up doing. This quotation reveals Trigorin's nature as a parasite of the lives around him, yet he is not a villain because his actions are not devious. Trigorin openly admits to his plan for Nina and stays true to his selfish desires.

Here I am talking to you, I'm all worked up, and still I can't forget for a minute that I've got a story to finish. I see a cloud, like that one, shaped like a piano. I smell the heliotrope, I make a mental note: a sickly-sweet smell, a widow's color, use it to describe a summer's evening.

Nina's interest in Trigorin excites him, but even in his state of elation and expectation, he cannot fully appreciate the moment. Through his language, we become convinced of Trigorin's talents. Writing comes more naturally to him than to Treplev. Trigorin's conflict lies between passivity and activity. Trigorin borrows the details from his life for his stories, but here he realizes that he has trouble living life as it happens, in the moment because he feels more comfortable as an observer. Nina forces Trigorin into the role of an active participant in his own life. Her desire for him and his for her pressures Trigorin into making a decision. But even in the heat of his realization of his desire for Nina, Trigorin's attention to detail and specific sensations of the world around him disperses his emotions. Instead of throwing himself into his feelings for Nina, he takes the time to notice, clouds, flowers, smells and to plan phrases of sentences for the future when he will document the moment in writing. Trigorin could be described as self-conscious and hyper-conscious of his environment. His thoughts reveal an imaginative, creative mind with a propensity for accuracy and precision. His rush of joy is due in part to his change from standing by and taking notes to making decisions and taking risks.

People's destinies are so different. Some people drag along, unnoticed and boring—they're all alike, and they're all unhappy. Then there are others, like for instance you—you're one in a million. You're happy—

Nina's world-view is seen in black and white. She divides people into two groups, those who create their destinies and those who allow life to shape their destiny. Filled with awe, she endows a creative life with happiness. Chekhov counterpoints this opinion with the unsatisfied Treplev who pursues an artistic life but who feels miserable and unsatisfied. Trigorin cannot be described as happy either. He takes little time to judge his life and as Arkadina says in Act One, he hates it when others try to talk about him. Chekhov also counterpoints Nina's statement about the unhappy people who aren't noticed in life. Though several characters in The Seagull who are not famous like Trigorin and Arkadina are unhappy such as Masha and Paulina. Dorn and Sorin critique their life and may have some regrets, but they are not unhappy. Dorn enjoys his popularity with the ladies and his retirement. Sorin enjoys the company of his loved ones. Shamrayev, though argumentative, takes pleasure in a good story and the company of Arkadina. Nina comes off as naive and impressionable because of her generalizations. Nina believes that if you live a life in which your dreams come true or your goals are achieved then you will be satisfied and happy. Trigorin refutes this idea by explaining that though he achieved acclaim, he never can finish his work, he always has more work to do and therefore, he is never happy or content. When one story is finished, it no longer matters to him and so he has to solve the problems of the next.

On the other hand, Nina's ideas about the two types of people, happy and unhappy are defended in part by Trigorin's blasé attitude toward his own life. He has achieved much and lives a life of privilege and confidence. Nina notes that Trigorin lacks perspective of his own privileges and luck. In this way, she is right, that Trigorin has much to be happy about but her argument becomes a classist view nonetheless, putting on a pedestal successful artists and intellectuals above all. Nina continues a debate started in the first scene of the play between Medvedenko and Masha. They argued with each other over what would make them happy. Masha chose true love and Medvedenko chose freedom from financial worries. Nina's version of the debate sheds light on the inexplicable and personal definition of happiness as an individual interpretation.

You're sixty years old. Medicine won't help.

After Arkadina and Sorin inquire to Dorn about ways to alleviate Sorin's pain and fading health, Sorin expresses regret for his life. He regrets that he never fulfilled any of the dreams of his youth that included becoming a writer, doing well with the ladies and speaking in public well. As a doctor, Dorn curiously gives Sorin little advice. Instead of prescribing a remedy Dorn asks Sorin what he wants from Dorn. Does he want aspirin, etc. This apathetic response that asks the patient to make a prescription disturbs Sorin and Arkadina. Dorn's attitude is that Sorin cannot be helped. He is old and sick and therefore, should just live out what is left of his life as his destiny plans and no medicine can alter. Chekhov was a doctor and Dorn is one of several doctor characters Chekhov writes.

Chekhov was also ill, like Sorin living with tuberculosis for much of his adult life. Probably both Dorn's apathetic attitude and Sorin's desire for a remedy reflect Chekov's view of his own health. As a doctor, he must have known how serious and untreatable his condition was and at the same time, he probably wanted to live as long as he could and seek relief, if not a cure. Dorn's line about Sorin is funny not only because sixty is no longer an old age to a modern audience, but also because it says something greater about all of our lives. Nothing can cure death or prevent it. Anything we try to do to stay alive is in one way or another, postponing or ignoring the inevitable. Dorn's comment also makes us laugh because it pokes fun at older adults and their idiosyncrasies, describing Sorin's age as one that is unable to be helped.

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