Study Guide

The Seagull

The Seagull Summary

In Act 1, The Nikolaev family is gathered at their awesome summer home. Big brother Sorin, sixty years old, lives at the estate. His famous sister, Arkadina, has arrived for vacation with her lover Trigorin. Arkadina's son Konstantin has been laboring at an original play that premieres that night and stars the beautiful neighbor girl Nina. What could go wrong, right?

Everything.

Other friends and neighbors will attend the performance: Shamrayev, the farm manager, his wife Paulina, and his daughter Masha; Masha's suitor Medvedenko; and the local doctor Dorn. It's exciting! But it's a disaster. Jealous, spiteful Arkadina undermines the performance and upsets her son Konstantin. He's distraught because he failed in front of Nina, whom he loves.

A couple of weeks later, in Act 2, Nina has fallen out of love with Konstantin. When he shoots a seagull and threatens to kill himself, she just moves farther away from him—and toward the writer Trigorin. The attraction is mutual, to the fury of Arkadina.

This isn't the only love triangle in the play, however: Medvedenko's in love with Masha; Masha's in love with Konstantin; and Paulina's in love with Dorn (don't forget—she's already married). Sorin's getting sicker and Shamrayev still enjoys torturing the aristocrats by denying them horses.

In Act 3, Arkadina and Trigorin are preparing to return to Moscow. Nina indirectly declares her love for Trigorin, who feels the same way. He'd like to stay. No way no how, says Arkadina, and pulls out all the actressy stops to get him back—for now. She's much more concerned about preserving her romantic relationship than the one with her son, who has shot himself in despair over Nina's rejection. Arkadina leaves the house with Trigorin, but not before he has promised to see Nina in Moscow. Masha plans to marry Medvedenko.

Act 4 begins two years later. Masha is unhappily married to Medvedenko, and they have a neglected baby. Konstantin lives at home with his uncle. He recounts the sad story of Nina, who hooked up with Trigorin, lost the baby, and was abandoned. And has become a mediocre actress.

Because Sorin is very ill—maybe dying—Arkadina and Trigorin drop in to visit. The glamorous couple offers mildly encouraging words to Konstantin, who has become a published writer. While the others socialize, Konstantin receives a visit from Nina. Nervous and ill, she's just stopped in before she has to be on her way again to an acting gig in a small town. Konstantin begs her to stay with him but Nina, still in love with Trigorin, rejects him. She leaves, and Konstantin goes into the next room. He shoots himself.

  • Act 1

    • The stage directions introduce us to Sorin's farm. There's a lake in the distance with a small stage set up in front of it. It's just after sunset.
    • The farm manager's daughter, Masha, and her suitor, Medvedenko, enter. He's a poor schoolteacher. She doesn't love him.
    • Sorin enters with his nephew Konstantin. Sorin is middle-aged and sickly; he has headaches, asthma attacks, and rheumatism.
    • Konstantin is a little nervous because he's about to premiere his play for the family. He's particularly afraid of his mother Arkadina's criticism. She's a famous actress and doesn't take well to other people's work.
    • Nina enters. She's starring in Konstantin's play. They're in love with each other.
    • Nina is anxious because the renowned writer Trigorin will be watching. Konstantin hates to hear the man's name mentioned; he's Arkadina's lover.
    • Nina and Trigorin exit; Paulina and Dorn enter. She's the housekeeper, he's a country doctor. They're having an affair.
    • Everyone enters in time to watch the play: Arkadina, Sorin, Trigorin, Medvedenko, Masha, and Shamrayev, the farm manager.
    • Shamrayev, Arkadina, and Dorn argue about actors while Konstantin sets up.
    • Arkadina is impatient for the play to begin, and when it does, she's totally disrespectful.
    • Nina comes out dressed in white and gives a long, abstract monologue about the universal soul. Konstantin has put in some effects: two burning red eyes and a sulphur smell. His mother starts heckling the play and he calls it off. Konstantin storms out.
    • Sorin scolds Arkadina for insulting her son.
    • Nina emerges and bashfully meets Trigorin, her hero. They exchange a couple comments about creativity, but Arkadina doesn't really want them making nice.
    • Nina goes home, while the others go inside.
    • Dorn stays outside and is met by a miserable Konstantin. The doctor compliments the play—but has some advice for the playwright.
    • Konstantin doesn't care; he just wants to find Nina.
    • Masha enters, Konstantin leaves.
    • Masha confesses to Dorn that she's in love with Konstantin.
  • Act 2

    • Some time has passed. We're still outside, but now on the side lawn, set up for croquet. It's the middle of the day.
    • Dorn had been reading aloud when Arkadina initiates a competition between herself and Masha, with Dorn as the arbiter. Who looks younger, she asks? She gives Masha advice on looking her best. Masha is depressed and really couldn't care less.
    • Arkadina takes up the reading when Sorin enters with Medvedenko and Nina.
    • The group has a conversation about Maupassant, Konstantin's play, Sorin's health, and Dorn's experiences while traveling the world.
    • Shamrayev and Paulina enter. Arkadina wanted to go into town, but Shamrayev won't let her have a horse to ride. She's furious.
    • When they're alone, Paulina begs Dorn to take her away from the vulgar Shamrayev. Dorn clearly has no plans to do any such thing.
    • Konstantin and Nina have a little tête-à-tête. He has killed a seagull in her honor. Nina's essentially, "What? Gross." She has fallen out of love with him and he's in despair.
    • Trigorin enters. Uh oh. Konstantin is insanely jealous of the older, successful writer (who's sleeping with his mom). He leaves.
    • Nina and Trigorin have a long conversation about writing. Nina is just enthralled by everything the man says. He explains that writing really doesn't give him pleasure, but that it's something he can't stop himself from doing.
    • They are getting along very well.
    • Arkadina comes in: Boris! Get back in here!
  • Act 3

    • We're in Sorin's dining room. Suitcases are piled up—someone's getting ready to leave.
    • Trigorin and Masha are talking and drinking. Masha confesses that she still loves Konstantin but plans to marry Medvedenko. She thinks marriage will cure her hopeless love.
    • Nina enters; a moment with Trigorin. She gives him a present: a medallion inscribed with his initials and some pertinent quote from one of his novels.
    • Arkadina interrupts their sweet moment. She really can't stand when the two of them are alone together.
    • Sorin wants to go to Moscow with Arkadina and Trigorin. Arkadina dissuades him.
    • Trigorin exits, looking for the book Nina referenced. Sorin and Arkadina have a conversation about Konstantin. He's tried to kill himself.
    • Perhaps if you gave him a little money, suggests Sorin. No way, replies the stingy actress.
    • Medvedenko and Konstantin enter. Medvedenko takes Sorin out.
    • Arkadina changes the bandage on Konstantin's head. It's a very tender mother-son exchange until the subject of Trigorin comes up.
    • Konstantin calls the guy a hack; Arkadina says he's just jealous. It gets pretty ugly and Konstantin starts crying. He's depressed at losing Nina.
    • Trigorin returns: he's found the quote. Nina has written to him, "If you ever need my life, come take it." He wants to stay. He wants to be with Nina. He begs Arkadina.
    • Furious and hurt, she nevertheless figures out how to keep him with her instead. She flatters him into submission (as if Nina hadn't flattered him enough).
    • The carriage arrives to take them to the train station. Goodbyes are said; Arkadina tips the cook and servants a measly dollar; Paulina cries.
    • Everyone goes out but then Trigorin reenters. He has forgotten his walking stick. And who is there but Nina!
    • They arrange to meet in Moscow.
  • Act 4

    • It's two years later. We're back at Sorin's house, in the parlor. It's evening.
    • Masha and Medvedenko enter. Medvedenko wants to go home, but Masha refuses. She's fine leaving their baby on his own. She really doesn't want to spend time with her family.
    • Konstantin and Paulina enter, setting up a bed for Sorin in Konstantin's room.
    • Paulina makes chitchat with Konstantin, who is now a real, money-earning writer. She wishes he would be nicer to her daughter Masha. The girl still has a crush on him.
    • Konstantin gets up and goes out, uninterested in engaging in this line of conversation.
    • Paulina and Masha talk about unrequited love. Masha still thinks that if she leaves, she can finally get over Konstantin.
    • Medvedenko and Dorn enter, pushing Sorin, who is now in a wheelchair. Medvedenko hasn't left yet because Shamrayev won't give him a horse. Masha's annoyed.
    • A conversation about Sorin's health. Dorn still won't give him medicine. He says Sorin shouldn't fear death.
    • The philosophical doctor reflects on his favorite city, Genoa. Because of the crowds. Nina comes up in conversation, and Konstantin gives the report. She became an actress; had a baby by Trigorin. The writer abandoned her and the baby died. Her career has faltered. She's been writing to Konstantin—and now she's actually in town.
    • Arkadina, Trigorin, and Shamrayev enter. Everyone reunites.
    • Trigorin congratulates Konstantin on his new success. He's a little chattier than he was at the beginning of the play. Konstantin can barely tolerate it.
    • Medvedenko finally leaves—without a horse. He'll walk four miles in the rain.
    • Everyone sits down to play cards, but Konstantin leaves the room. He plays a melancholy waltz offstage while the others gossip about his bad reviews. After the card game, everyone leaves and Konstantin is left alone to write.
    • Nina enters. Konstantin is ecstatic to see her.
    • They catch up. Nina's nerves are obviously frail; as she talks she keeps reverting to the phrase "I'm the seagull."
    • Headed to a small town for some theater work, she can only stay for a moment. Konstantin wants her to stay for good.
    • Through the door, Nina hears Trigorin's voice. She still loves him.
    • Once Nina exits, Konstantin tears up his manuscripts. He goes into another room.
    • The party returns with a game and some drinks, but from offstage comes the sound of a gunshot.
    • Dorn runs off to investigate, inventing an excuse. He returns instantly and tells Trigorin to somehow get Arkadina out of there. Konstantin has shot himself.
    • Ugh. Thanks, Chekhov. That was uplifting.