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The Seagull | Act 4 | Summary

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Summary

Two years later, a room in Pyotr Nikolayevich Sorin's house has been turned into a study for Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplyov. It is near supper time, and everyone is inside to avoid an oncoming storm. Masha and Semyon Semyonovitch Medvedenko (who have now married) enter the room, and Medvedenko tries to persuade Masha that they should leave for home before the storm gets worse. But Masha has no interest in either her boring husband or her even more odious duties as a mother to their infant son. Instead, her thoughts are all on Treplyov, who in the two years' time since Act 3, has become a moderately popular published writer.

Treplyov has acquired an entourage of his own, and Sorin has become so attached to his nephew that he wants his bed set up in the study. Equally dazzled by Treplyov's success, Polina Andreyevna asks Treplyov to be nicer to her daughter, Masha. It can be inferred that now that he's become a "real writer," he's become more handsome, and he must also be in need of a feminine muse—all the more so that Nina is absent.

Sorin comes in and says he has an idea he wants Treplyov to write into a story. He ends up quibbling with Yevgeny Sergeyevich Dorn. When Treplyov enters, Dorn asks him if he knows what became of Nina, who ran off to the city to become an actress. Treplyov states that she took up with Trigorin, became a second-rate actress, had a child who died, and then was abandoned by Trigorin. He says Trigorin never really left Irina Nikolayevna Arkadina and her stingy but reliable financial support. Treplyov states that Nina then began writing letters to him, which she signed "Seagull." He goes on to report that Nina has arrived at the inn nearby but will see no one, and her parents have barred her from their house.

Arkadina and Boris Alekseyevich Trigorin arrive together for a visit, and it isn't long before the group sets up to play a game of lotto. Medvedenko asks for a horse to get home in the bad weather, and being denied one, sets off on foot. While everyone else settles in for the game, Treplyov says he's going for a walk but plays the piano instead. The group gossips about his depression and the cruelty of his literary critics. When everyone goes to supper, Treplyov broods alone over his difficulties in writing in the new form. Nina soon appears and interrupts his thoughts.

He is delighted to see her, although she is much changed. She has had her dreams of a glorious life in the theater shattered and is in bad health. Her mind wanders, and she tells him how she has had to endure the disappointments of the life she has chosen. Even so, she declares she still loves Trigorin. She quotes lines from the play Treplyov had written for her to act in four years earlier. When Nina leaves, Treplyov tears up his manuscripts before going out. Everyone who had been at supper returns, and Ilya Afanasyevich Shamrayev shows Trigorin the seagull he had had stuffed and stored in a cabinet. A shot is heard. Dorn says he thinks it might be something in his medicine bag that exploded and goes to see. When he returns, he takes Trigorin aside and quietly tells him to get Arkadina away from there because Treplyov has shot himself.

Analysis

It is in this act that themes of age, death, money, and happiness join with the symbolism of the seagull. The little theater by the lake is in disrepair, but no one pays any attention to it. Medvedenko comments on its being like a skeleton, an image suggestive of death and decay. Freedom and speed of movement is implicit in in the use of a horse again begin denied to Medvedenko, who, in the previous act, had not been invited to share the carriage ride to the station to see Arkadina and Trigorin off. Instead he "walked fast" to get there. This time, however, his request is motivated by a genuine urgency to beat the storm and get home (a distance of about six miles) to his infant son. Everyone else (including his mother-in-law, Polina) is so caught up in outdoing each other in fawning over Treplyov that no one pays any attention to the poor hen-pecked husband.

In fact, Polina unmistakably credits Treplyov's attractiveness to his literary success. And although Masha says she will leave all this behind if her husband gets his transfer, it's pretty clear these are empty words. She has made herself quite at home in Sorin's house in order to be close to Treplyov. Meanwhile, very little has changed for anyone over the course of four years. Trigorin anticipates an opportunity to go fishing again at the lake to escape the boredom of his writing, while Arkadina hasn't read anything her son has written and doesn't care to. Only a tiny flicker of insight passes through Treplyov as he comes to the conclusion that old or new forms are of no consequence so long as the writing "flows freely from his soul." But this small lift under his artistic wings isn't enough to hold him up for long. Even the appearance of the much-changed Nina (who has learned nothing through her sufferings) cannot keep him afloat. And although she asks him to kill her in the same way he killed the seagull two years before, she's already set her life's path and will stay on it. Treplyov, however, still has no idea of what he'd need to do to give life to his writing, and it is likely that he sees his future in Trigorin. Unable to face such a life, he tears up all his manuscripts when Nina leaves and then, as if to bring the futility of the seagull full circle to himself as both the destroyer and the destroyed, ends his own life.

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