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The Seagull | Quotes

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1.

Whether you want to or not, you have to live.


Sorin, Act 1

Sorin's lament early on in The Seagull expresses the deep dissatisfaction he has with his life and points to Treplyov's ultimate response of suicide as the only option other than to go on living. The statement assumes that nothing is going to change either for Sorin or for anyone else in the play. After all, making a change for the better requires each person to take responsibility for his or her direction in life. Then again, the two characters who actually attempt to make a change (Treplyov and Nina) don't end up any better than anyone else. The lesson might be to just stick to what is known and go on living that way.

2.

She wants to live, to love, to wear bright-colored blouses, but I am already twenty-five and I remind her she's no longer young.


Treplyov, Act 1

Treplyov here refers to his vain and aging mother, Arkadina. She wants to think of herself as young, and of course she wants others to think of her that way too. But that representation is hard for her to maintain when she has a 25-year-old son. Try as she will by dressing in bright-colored clothing and dancing about as a young woman, there is no hiding from a fact so apparent. Still, it is a reminder she sometimes tries to ignore.

3.

It's difficult to act in your play. It has no living characters.


Nina, Act 1

Chekhov gives Nina this wicked jab at the new, abstract form of Russian theater. Instead of offering audiences simple entertainment, the new theatrical form challenges audiences to think and to try to understand new ideas. Unfortunately, Treplyov's attempt at this form lacks substance. What Nina really means, however, is that the play doesn't give her a chance to show herself off as an actress in the same manner as Arkadina can in order to impress Trigorin.

4.

If I ever [felt] the upsurge of spirit which artists have at the moment of creation, I would scorn my material shell and all that belongs to it.


Dorn, Act 1

Readers may be justified in considering how the doctor's statement might reflect Chekhov's own experience in shifting from his profession as a physician who deals with physical reality to his profession as a writer who deals in imaginative fiction. It is in any case a flight of fancy someone who is not an artist might make about what it would be like if he or she were to become one. It is similar to Nina's statement that she would be willing to live on rye bread in order to become an actress.

5.

Here a woman, before she sets out to capture a writer, is usually—excuse me—head over heels in love herself.


Arkadina, Act 2

Arkadina is describing what a French woman (whether an artist herself or a respected member of society and married) would do to get herself immortalized through the writing of a famous author. The question is, does the woman as muse make the author famous, or the other way around? It seems she knows she and Trigorin are at a stalemate on the issue, and the two of them have settled down into something like a marriage. Even so, she keeps a close eye on him.

6.

Excuse me, I worship your talent, I'm ready to give ten years of my life for you, but I cannot give you horses!


Ilya Afanasyevich Shamrayev, Act 2

Shamrayev is a perfect petty tyrant and, as the manager of Sorin's estate, sees to its uninterrupted and smooth operations regardless of whether those operations disturb someone else or not. The Seagull is filled with extravagant expressions like this one, for it is very easy to declare a willingness to give 10 years of life because the speaker knows that will never be asked for. But, asking for the use of horses is a practical and everyday request that could be granted, and for that reason alone Shamrayev finds it impossible. Perhaps Shamrayev's military background dictates his arbitrary decisions.

7.

I thought famous people were proud and unapproachable, that they despised the world.


Nina, Act 2

This is one of the most blatant examples of Nina's completely innocent view of what artists do, and it is about as far from the truth as it is possible to get. It is very easy to imagine that artists soar through the sky like eagles, but what people like Nina don't realize is that in order to give that appearance it takes much more hard work than most people, including Nina herself, are willing to put into it.

8.

And this seagull is clearly a symbol but, forgive me, I don't understand.


Nina, Act 2

Dealing with meaning and truth as offered by a play of this sort was something Russian audiences and actors of the time were uneasy encountering. Not wanting to appear stupid or uninformed, comments like this indicate a need to appear intelligent and sophisticated when the suspicion is that that is not the case.

9.

Don't look at me like that. Women drink more often than you think.


Masha, Act 3

Dorn as a doctor has been lecturing Masha and anyone else who will listen to him on the ill effects alcohol and smoking have on a person's health. Not only does Masha drink but she also takes snuff. Although they may have hidden it, women of all social strata in Russia drank, and it would be surprising if Dorn were not fully aware of this in his female patients.

10.

Yes, I'll be needing them [the fishing rods] again. But give the books away to someone.


Trigorin, Act 3

Trigorin has his priorities, despite the fact that fishing doesn't fit in with Nina's concept of what an artist is supposed to be. Writing has become to Trigorin just about the same kind of daily chore as Dorn finds in healing the sick. The only difference is that Trigorin gets a bit of publicity and recognition for his writing, while Dorn hardly gets paid. At least Trigorin can spend his time out fishing on the lake, and he has every intention of enjoying it as much as he can. Lugging books around—even if he did write them—is a burden.

11.

The bees die, the cows die, I can't ever have horses.


Sorin, Act 3

Sorin laments the fact that although he owns his estate, it is really his neighbor and estate manager who decides everything that goes on with military precision. Therefore, Sorin's powerlessness is his own fault, and the tradeoff he has to accept in order to be free of managing the place himself. His manager can do a good or a poor job of it, and he can also skim profits for himself because Sorin won't do anything about it. It is always easier to blame someone else for the downside of one's own choices, and Sorin revels in playing the eternal victim.

12.

It stands there like a skeleton, bare and ugly, and the curtain bangs in the wind.


Semyon Semyonovich Medvedenko, Act 4

The poor schoolteacher is referring to the stage erected for Treplyov's play in Act 1. The structure stands abandoned and neglected just as the seagull Treplyov killed and was then stuffed has been put away and forgotten. The comparison to a skeleton sets the tone of death at the end of the play.

13.

A woman doesn't need much, only the odd tender look.


Polina Andreyevna, Act 4

Polina seems determined to participate in the romantic bohemian life vicariously through her daughter's obsession with Treplyov. In fact, Polina even attempts to encourage Treplyov to give his attention to her daughter even though Masha is married and has a small child.

14.

She always went for big roles, but her acting was coarse, tasteless, full of noisy rhetoric and abrupt gestures.


Treplyov, Act 4

Despite Nina's high idealism about the art of the theater, her two years working in it has brought her down to the basic give them their money's worth and you'll get paid trap. Ironically, as a hack actress, she ends up no better off, and possibly worse off, than Arkadina, who, although she pleases her audiences, never aspires to do much more than that in her career.

15.

He read his own story but he didn't even cut the pages of mine.


Treplyov, Act 4

This seemingly petty complaint demonstrates that no matter how well his own writing is going, Treplyov remains obsessed with comparing himself to the admittedly tepid artistry of his rival Trigorin. In the past when books were made, the sheets of paper were folded before being bound. To read the book a person had to cut the pages at the fold to separate them.

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