Shamrayev and Arkadina argue about the use of the horses. Arkadina wants to use them later in the day to go into town. Shamrayev has them out in the field. Stubborn, he will not allow her to use them later. She threatens to leave the estate and return to the country. Paulina becomes upset and embarrassed at her husband's lack of respect for Arkadina. Paulina makes herself feel worse by asking Dorn if he likes other women now. He does not give her a straight answer. Nina gives Dorn a bouquet of fresh picked flowers. Paulina takes the flowers from him and destroys them.
Nina is the only one left onstage. She comments that she is surprised that Arkadina and Trigorin act like normal people even though they are famous. Treplev enters with a rifle and a dead seagull in his hands. He puts the seagull at Nina's feet. He tells her that he shot the bird in her honor and that one day he will be like the seagull. Nina and Treplev fight about their relationship to each other. She accuses him of talking in symbols. He laments her change from warm to cold. Treplev expresses his conclusion that Nina stopped loving him because his play was a failure. "Women never forgive failures," he says. He tells Nina that he has burned his manuscript. He is visibly self- destructive in reaction to his disappointment of his loved ones' lack of appreciation for his play. He compares Nina's lost love to the lake disappearing into the ground.
Trigorin enters. Treplev exits bitterly when he sees Nina's fondness for the famous writer. Trigorin and Nina have a conversation in which Nina reveals her envy for his position as a talented creator, and Trigorin reveals his interest in knowing more about Nina for his writing. Trigorin brings up the news that he and Arkadina are leaving the estate to go back to town. At first, he hesitantly exposes his thoughts to Nina, but her charm, intelligence, flattery, and beauty unravel his deepest thoughts to the young, hopeful actress. Trigorin explains to Nina his obsessive-compulsive behavior that forces him to document everything he observes in his memory and then on paper, for future use in a story. Trigorin never satisfies his hunger for observing detail nor for writing. He is never content and must always start a new story once he has finished the last. Nina's idea of a fulfilled, happy life of an artist amuses Trigorin. Nina accuses him of lacking perspective if he cannot appreciate his luck and luxury of leading a creative, self-sustaining life. Trigorin's description of his life in his revelatory speech brings the two closer together.
Nina tells Trigorin about her life growing up on the lake. Trigorin sees the seagull that Treplev shot. He writes down a note about Nina, saying that she has inspired him to start a new story about a girl who is ruined by a man just like the seagull that Treplev destroyed because he has nothing better to do. Arkadina interrupts Trigorin and Nina when she calls to Boris Trigorin announcing that she has been convinced to stay on the estate.
Shamrayev and Arkadina's argument over the horses represents the two kinds of needs that characters in the play exhibit. Some like Masha, Medvedenko, and Paulina desire basic needs like money, love, and respect. Others spend their time thinking of so-called loftier notions such as philosophy, literature, and art, and these are the notions to which Arkadina, Sorin, and Treplev subscribe. These needs, evidently, are divided by class. Shamrayev and Arkadina's argument is based on class; He needs the horses to work the farm while she wants the horses to carry her. Shamrayev's stubborn outlook on the use of the horse may be exaggerated and if so, this may be because it is his domain, the affairs of working the farm are where he has power and he may think that he must maintain his role in order to maintain his pride.
Treplev's version of survival includes part optimism and part pessimism: he approaches life with hope but expects to fail. Treplev handles disappointment quite differently from Arkadina. He is unusually hard on himself in his life and his work. Since puts all of his cards on his love for Nina and his hope for a successful career, he sets himself up for disappointment when her love disappears and his play flops. Treplev's spirit shatters and his disappointment haunts him for the rest of his life.