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.