In The Seagull, Anton Chekhov uses the bird to expose the vulnerability of his main characters Nina and Constantine, to show their innocence and freedom, and their losing both.
At the start of the play, Nina relates with the seagull in that she is drawn to the lake where she grew up like the bird. In this sense, the seagull depicts an image of security, innocence and freedom, all the things that Nina has before she goes out into the world to pursue her acting dreams. She is a contented seagull happy to be home. In her pursuit of her dream of fame, Nina becomes drawn to Trigorin, and Trigorin’s character also recognizes Nina as the seagull when he said: “Just making a note…a plot for a short story. It’s about a girl not unlike you, who has lived all her life beside a lake. She loves the lake, the way a seagull does, and she’s as happy and free as a seagull. Then a man comes along, catches sight of her, and in an idle moment, and destroys her – just like that seagull of yours.” In this brief statement, Trigorin is already revealing that he intended to use Nina for his own selfish motives – as a material for his writing, and not to be loved as she hoped. More than that, as Trigorin represented the fulfillment of Nina’s ambition of fame and success, I think that the man who catches sight of the seagull not only refers to Trigorin himself but also to a part of an individual who exploits his or her talents by using these irresponsibly and in turn destroying the inherent creative spirit within. It is man’s greed that eventually destroys himself in the end, caring little for the principles and ideals that he once believed in just to pursue the material things that he desire. In this play, we see the characters struggle with their crafts. Nina wants to be an actress and she is willing to do anything to achieve fame and be successful, and just like that she is like a seagull who left its home to follow a man who will eventually kill her.
And in the later part of the play, Nina do realize that she made a mistake, that it was not fame or success that mattered, but her ability to endure the things that came her way. She saw herself as the seagull, fallen from grace, but like the once proud who left her home, she came back and not let the world destroy her completely. She retained for herself a sense of pride and dignity and hope. She lost her innocence and freedom, but she gained experience and insight. If the seagull will be taken as the symbolizing Nina’s innocence, then it is true that the seagull was destroyed, because Nina has emerged wiser after her ordeals.
On the other hand, the seagull stood for Constantine’s sincere love for Nina and his art. Perhaps like Nina’s seagull who is attracted to the lake, Constantine’s seagull is loyal to Nina and his craft of writing. In Act Two of the play, Constantine shoots a seagull and offers it to Nina saying that one day he will be the seagull in her honor. What he meant was that his existence was inextricably linked with hers, and that he loved her so much that he would willingly die for her. At the end of the play when Nina confessed that she could not love Constantine, he kills himself, therefore fulfilling his pledge about being the seagull for Nina. When he found that he could not win her love, he ended his life. He was like a seagull without a home and he also felt discouraged and misunderstood with his passion of writing, and he deemed it better to end his suffering than give in to a mediocre life. The seagull symbolized innocence and love for Constantine – he was passionate and he felt sincerely. He wanted to create a new art form, he loved Nina incessantly. When he failed at both, he would rather die than continue living a sub-standard life like the other characters who married people they do not love and pursued writing half-heartedly.
By using a tamer bird as metaphor as compared to a hawk or raven, Chekhov was suggesting the pristine quality of spirit that both protagonists exhibit. In a way, the seagull symbolized the youth and everything that came with it in Constantine and Nina’s lives. They were young, innocent, passionate and full of dreams. The seagull was a vulnerable bird – it was hopelessly attracted to the lake, and it could do little to defend itself. In the same way, Constantine and Nina are both hopelessly drawn and dedicated to their passions, and they did not seek to stop themselves from pursuing their dreams, rather they went ahead to find their way to their respective lakes. In the end, the seagull presented the ardent pursuit of a dream by an innocent spirit.