Many of Chekov’s characters in The Seagull resolve to hopelessly love people who do not love them. This tendency presents a clear flaw that Chekov makes fun of, as these fixations inevitably lead to nothing. The hopeless romantics do not end up finding each other and rather remain as they were, or in Constantine’s case, lost for good. How these characters got to their points of no return differs in a combination of upbringings and personal characteristics. Masha for instance, who is used for dark comic relief throughout the play, displays striking similarities in her faults to those of her mother. While her depressing cynicism can easily be taken for granted, there is an undeniable parallel between Polina’s pining affection toward Dr. Dorn and Masha’s more dramatic adoration for Constantine. Masha’s unreciprocated love for Constantine and her inability to take in pleasures from life stem from an unconscious tendency to learn from her mother.
Polina’s loveless marriage provides more than just an example for Masha to marry Simon; it spawns the idea of following false hope and leads Masha to absorb her life in someone who will give her nothing. It is important to understand that Chekov does not create a perfect parallel, giving each character an individual distinction as means of making them more human and therefore relatable. Masha’s love for Constantine has become an obsession. Polina’s feelings for Dr. Dorn, on the other hand, are displayed more as a want rather than a need. She longs to be with him of course, but understands that she has committed herself to Ilya. Nonetheless, Masha’s decision to marry and remain lovesick for another man is a learned predisposition from her mother. Polina is embarrassed by her husband’s actions and his firm control over the use of his horses, yet remains committed to him as if her feelings of displeasure were not important in regards of their marriage. While Polina knows that she will stay with Ilya, she still makes advances toward Dr. Dorn who continually turns her down. Like any daughter, Masha looks to her mother for guidance and is likely to mimic her characteristics. As a result, Masha sees no wrong in entering a loveless marriage with Simon on her own accord while actively pursuing her actual heart’s desires. Polina feels Masha’s pain and must realize at some point the pointlessness of marrying out of spite instead of love, but brings up Masha to believe that it is the only way they can live life. Masha feels like she “knows not whence she comes or why she lives” because adoring Constantine has not given her the purpose of living that she thought she would find, but she does not need to feel this way. Her mother has taught her, whether consciously or unconsciously, to follow false hope.
Instead of admitting that her pursuance for Dr. Dorn is causing her to neglect her daughter’s best interest, Polina incites Masha to follow Constantine, which introduces her to the idea of abandonment and instills her with a sense of emptiness. Polina watches her daughter make Constantine’s bed and lay down her life for him. However, instead of helping Masha move on she turns to Constantine and asks him to at least glance at her daughter. She knows Constantine’s feelings will never change but asks him to continue to lead her own daughter down an empty path. Her duty as a mother is to protect her child and provide her with her best chance at happiness. However, she abandons this role because it is easier to ignore it and chase after her own desires, namely Dr. Dorn, who does not seem to take any particular interest in her. Hypocritically, she remains committed to Ilya on paper, but exhibits great jealousy when someone as harmless as Nina inadvertently hands Dr. Dorn flowers. Although she does not abandon her role as a wife during the play, she would have left or even started an affair had Dr. Dorn agreed to love her. Granted, Polina does not leave her husband, but she does influence Masha to leave Simon by pushing her towards a man who already loves someone else. Masha does not need to mimic her mother’s flirtations with Dr. Dorn entirely because she displays her own distinction. She takes her love for Constantine a step further, and abandons her role as a mother and wife for days to simply exist in his presence. Her neglect may be caused by a poor mindset, but she continues to follow an empty idea, projected to her by her mother.
Polina’s demeaning attitude toward Simon projects the idea that he does not need appreciation, which causes Masha’s respect for Simon to fade throughout the play. Although Simon has sacrificed a lot for Masha, Polina still believes that Masha would be better off with Constantine, if only he would notice her. Although Ilya embarrasses her when he rejects Simon’s request to use his horses, Polina makes no conscious effort to help Simon’s case. Similarly, Masha becomes frustrated with Simon for even asking her father for horses when there are other options. Even Polina’s seemingly insignificant reactions to Simon, such as her reluctance to allow Simon to kiss her hand, have been imprinted on Masha. Chekov introduces the play with Simon and Masha acting almost like old friends as they discuss recent events. However, Polina causes Masha’s regard toward Simon to decline, as her causal discussions with him in the start of the play turn into almost hateful dialogues toward the end. It is one thing for Masha to tell a man politely that she does not love him, and another to ignore his pleas of returning home to their child who has not seen his mother for four days. Thus, by accepting her mother’s manners in regards to her husband, Masha finds herself not simply unable to return Simon’s love, but even to regard him as a character.
Masha’s false hope, sense of emptiness, and animosity towards Simon are primarily consequences of Polina’s poor example as a parent. A mother nurtures and instinctively imposes her characteristics and habits onto her child. Regardless, it is the child’s right to choose which conventions to take on and how drastically to follow them. Polina exhibits questionable behavior, which can add to the dark comic relief or also convey a specific theme. But her behavior remains within the lines of reason, and she remains loyal to her husband and does not use her marriage as an irrational hope for change. In this sense Masha becomes a more dramatic reflection of Polina, taking in her mother’s advice and disposition a forlorn step further.
Analysis and Summary of Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’
The Seagull is a typical Chekhovian drama, part of a sub-genre which could be referred to as an “undramatic drama”. It has little plot, and most of the plot’s place is taken up by psychological portraits, lyricism, and a certain, truly ungraspable atmosphere, built up in the harsh realities of the Russian 19th century. Action is replaced by conversation, and the well-known, humorous dialogues of the era are replaced by the staccato style of speaking of the main characters.
The drama is built around one family, and their little community’s web of relationships, and is represented through a line of situation and conversations, as if the whole plot is a line of genre paintings, representing just moments of the lives of the characters. The outline of the first three acts is that of Arkadina and Trigorin’s one week vacation, and their departure from Sorin’s estate. In neither of the acts can a traditional, informational exposition, in the very first scene we see a stage being built, which’s symbolism is not be forgotten about, as we see this very stage described as being broken, and looking like a skeleton in the ending scene, thus making it an important symbol, and a key to setting the atmosphere of the book. In this first act the basic tone is already revealed to be negative, with the first conversation starting off with the question; “Why does she always wear black?”. Soon thereafter the dramatic plot unfolds, as we see a circle of unfulfilled loves appear. The loves are unfulfillable by nature, and their tones differ too, which start off with Nina, who is loved by Treplyov fall in love with Trigorin which then forms the aforementioned circle. Medvedenko falls in love Masha, who in turn loves Treplyov, who does Nina, whose heart chooses Trigorin, who despite being volatile stays inseparable from Arkadina, who wouldn’t let him go anyway.
This way The Seagull has no clear main character, all are equally important, with all of their lives being a single tragic fate. They all know each other’s relations, everyone takes part in everyone else’s lives, everyone is unhappy, wishful, but everyone loves, but also loves someone else than who loves them. The only way of self-actualization is through art, but in their personal lives even the best artists suffer – their loves are only a source of pain.
The character portraits are descriptive, and each represent a part of the time’s Russian society. Arkadina is comprised of all the negatives of actresses, she is banal, full of clichés, and hysterically overreacting. All conversations are an opportunity for acting to her, and her personality’s main traits are the borderline ridiculous egoism, opportunism and selfishness which includes stinginess too. When talking to her equals she is either overly endearing, or condescending, however with her son she is cold and dismissive. Trigorin, her love, is a mediocre, but successful writer, who is uncommunicative and reserved, but also vain. This is well shown when he only reads his own writings. He sees everything as a way of gaining experience, which makes him unscrupulous and vicious. The only things keeping him together with Arkadina is that he is too lazy to do anything else. He works almost constantly, gathers material for his works, but is also never satisfied with them. His confessions in the second act are sort of self-portrait by Chekhov. Treplyov, Arkadina’s son is suffering from constant lack of love, and is ambivalent towards his mother: he admires, but hates her. He is a romantic revolutionary, representative of a new style in playwriting, and claims in the first act that “Life must be represented not as it is, but as it ought to be; as it appears in dreams”. Despite finding a way out of his artistic crisis later on, the crisis of his personal life is never solved, and his love for Nina is never requited. Out of all the characters in the book, Nina is the only one with the capability to actually change her fate, and due to her nature as a naive, average citizen she creates herself opportunity through fight and suffering. The only honest character is Masha, who openly admits Dorn his love of Treplyov, however despite her openness Dorn first tries to laugh it off, and then flees from further discussion. All words of every character represent their inner state of mind, and the author often paints entire psychoanalytic pictures with sentences, or gestures.
Other Chekhovian elements include a new type of dialogue, where the characters go silent, disregard others’ words, and confessions. The book also includes a number of lyrical references, such as a Hamlet parallelism, or the mentioning of Zola or Tolstoy. This concludes with Nina finding a Tolstoyian outlook by the end, saying “it is not the honor and glory of which I have dreamt that is important, it is the strength to endure. One must know how to bear one’s cross, and one must have faith.” The seagull symbolism which acts as the focal point of the book, consummates through association of ideas, and sets the undertone of the atmosphere. First it appears in Nina’s simple simile, “this lake attracts me as it does the gulls”. The first time as an actual object it is after Treplyov has shot it, and acts as a symbol for his self-picture. After the series of Nina’s failures, she signs her letters as “Seagull”, and in her ending monologues, refers to herself the same way. The Seagull symbol not only means the new type of young artists and their modern ways, namely Treplyov and Nina, but the dead and stuffed Seagull shot by Treplyov also acts as a symbol for his and Nina’s dead love, and the dying style of art of Trigorin and Arkadina, which only resembles reality, and is not actually real, just like the relationship of the two of them.
Altogether, Chekhov’s “The Seagull” represents a new style of drama writing, which is more down-to-earth, and realistic than previous styles, hence the name of the era, “Realism”. It focuses more on the harsh truths of life, and his characters are not heroes. They are average people, nothing interesting happens in their lives. Chekhov did not want to find solutions for his characters either, he believed the writer has to be an opinionless witness of the events, but cannot judge the written person. In his undramatic dramas the conflicts do not happen between the characters, but inside each of their minds. After hearing the gunshot at the end, no one acknowledges the tragedy, and it gets further negated by Dorn, who exclaims “A flask of ether has exploded”. This sort of realist critique of the society he lived in has cause a stir in his time, which was reflected in the reception of his art as well. The first time it was performed in theatre was a failure – maybe the audience found what they had seen too similar to their lives.