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The Seagull | Act 3 | Summary

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Summary

Act 3 of The Seagull takes place in the dining room in Pyotr Nikolayevich Sorin's house at lunch time. Masha says she is determined to get over her feelings for Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplyov. She will "rip this love from my heart" by marrying the schoolmaster Semyon Semyonovitch Medvedenko. Boris Alekseyevich Trigorin is seated at the table having his lunch and listening to her with only half an ear. She has been drinking. Treplyov has tried to kill himself and is preparing to challenge Trigorin to a duel—something Trigorin doesn't understand, since he believes that "There's enough space for all, new and old—why do we have to wrestle?" Given her son's state of mind, Irina Nikolayevna Arkadina has determined to separate Trigorin and Treplyov to avoid trouble. Sorin tells his sister he wants to come too, but she tells him he'd be better off staying behind to look after his wounded nephew, Treplyov. Sorin suggests she might give her son a little money for a new suit, but she declares herself broke, since, she says "my clothes alone have quite ruined me."

A moment later she is changing the bandage on her son's head. Then they switch from nurse and patient into quarreling mother and son over Trigorin's talents as a writer. Trigorin enters, puzzling over the inscription on a medallion given to him by Nina. He looks it up in a book: "If ever you need my life, come and take it." In considering it, he begins to think Nina might be just the thing he needs to get a fresh start on his writing. The very thought of allowing Trigorin to drift off toward a younger woman infuriates Arkadina. Together they act out a dreadful scene of quarreling and making up again. Arkadina flatters him as wild and impulsive, something he clearly is not, but it is the imagined characteristic of an artist who cares nothing for middle-class conventions. But just as Arkadina gathers her belongings and is ready to leave, Trigorin is stopped by Nina. She tells him she is leaving everything for the theater, and he tells her where they can meet later in the city.

Analysis

Instead of flowers, as in the previous act, the symbols in Act 3 of The Seagull are medallions and honorary decorations. These indicate hope of passage from an undesired to a desired condition. Sorin is all dressed up in a frock coat and conspicuously wears the cross of his imperial order almost as if he believes it will give him permission to leave for Moscow with Arkadina. However, it's clear his sister doesn't want to be bothered with her (real or imagined) invalid brother and the restrictions his needs would place on her. Instead, she instructs Sorin to stay behind and take care of her wounded son. Treplyov will not be going with her because she wants to separate him from Trigorin to prevent a duel. Faced with her denial of his request, Sorin suffers an "episode" designed to attract general attention to his unsteady health.

Arkadina is ever ready to play the part of a solicitous nurse-mother to Treplyov. And she's considerate of her brother's health and well-being, up to a point. Despite her seeming care for others, however, she finds herself too impoverished to part with any money that might ease either her son's or her brother's troubles. In an elaborate show of generosity, she tells Yakov she has tipped the cook with the equivalent of approximately 50 cents. She tells Yakov the money is for him and the maid as well as the cook.

It's pretty clear Trigorin has no interest in fighting with the desperate Treplyov, but Arkadina probably has another good reason for wanting to get him away to the city. She has doubtless already noticed Nina's adoration of Trigorin and is anxious to keep her hold on her writer to whom she is a muse-in-waiting, expecting to be immortalized. As it turns out, Arkadina's suspicions are not unfounded. Upon receiving from Nina a medallion on which she has inscribed a reference to a passage in one of his books, Trigorin kisses it as if it were a holy relic. However, Trigorin tells Nina that he will remember her with the dead seagull, which seems to put the idea into Nina's head to tragically identify herself with the bird in Act 4. When Trigorin looks up the reference Nina had inscribed on the medallion, it sets Arkadina into a lavish scene playing the role of "the woman scorned." As he leaves, Trigorin instructs the determined Nina to stay at one of the finest (and likely most expensive) hotels in Moscow. Nina's decision to run away from home to become an actress based on a pea in her hand may refer to the Russian folk geomantic system of fortune-telling. It is a method of divination based on numbering and arranging piles of peas, beans, or other objects.

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