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Plot Summary of "The Seagull" by Anton Chekhov




The Setting: Two years pass. Act Four takes place in one of Sorin’s rooms. Konstantin has changed it into a writer’s study. The audience learns through exposition that during the last two years, Nina and Trigorin’s love affair has soured. She became pregnant, but the child died. Trigorin lost interest in her. She also became an actress, but not a very successful one. Konstantin has been depressed most of the time, but he has gained some success as a short story writer.

Masha and her husband prepare the room for guests. Irina will be arriving for a visit. She has been summoned because her brother Sorin has not been feeling well. Medvendenko is anxious to return home and attend to their baby. However, Masha wants to stay. She is bored with her husband and family life. She still longs for Konstantin. She hopes to move away, believing that distance will diminish her heartache.

Sorin, frailer than ever, laments the many things he wanted to achieve, yet he has not fulfilled a single dream. Dr. Dorn asks Konstantin about Nina. Konstantin explains her situation. Nina has written him a few times, signing her name as “The Seagull.” Medvedenko mentions having seen her in town recently.

Trigorin and Irina return from the train station. Trigorin carries a copy of Konstantin’s published work. Apparently, Konstantin has many admirers in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Konstantin is no longer hostile to Trigorin, but he is not comfortable either. He leaves while Irina and the others play a Bingo-style parlor game.

Shamrayev tells Trigorin that the seagull that Konstantin shot long ago has been stuffed and mounted, just as Trigorin wished. However, the novelist has no recollection of making such a request.

Konstantin returns to work on his writing. The others leave to dine in the next room. Nina enters through the garden. Konstantin is surprised and happy to see her. Nina has changed much. She has become thinner; her eyes seem wild. She deliriously reflects about becoming an actress. And yet she claims, “Life is shabby.”

Konstantin once again declares his undying love for her, despite how enraged she has made him in the past. Still, she does not return his affection. She calls herself ‘the seagull” and believes she “deserves to be killed.”

She claims that she still loves Trigorin more than ever. Then, she remembers how young and innocent she and Konstantin once were. She repeats part of the monologue from his play. Then, she suddenly embraces him and runs away, exiting through the garden.

Konstantin pauses a moment. Then, for two full minutes, he tears up all his manuscripts. He exits into another room.

Irina, Dr. Dorn, Trigorin and others re-enter the study to continue socializing. A gun-shot is heard in the next room, startling everyone. Dr. Dorn says it is probably nothing. He peeks through the door, but tells Irina it was merely a burst bottle from his medicine case. Irina is greatly relieved.

However, Dr. Dorn takes Trigorin aside and delivers the final lines of the play:

Take Irina Nikolaevna somewhere, away from here. The fact is, Konstantin Gavrilovich has shot himself.

Study Questions

What is Chekhov saying about Love? Fame? Regret?

Why do so many of the characters desire those they cannot have?

What is the effect of having much of the play’s action to place off stage?

Why do you suppose Chekhov ended the play before the audience is able to witness Irina discovering her son’s death?

What does the dead seagull symbolize?

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