Act II of “The Seagull” Play by Anton Chekhov
There are a number of themes that are prominent throughout Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull”, a majority of which can be seen in the second act of the play. In particular, an apt reader can identify a running idea of love, the self and its perception, as well as appreciation of art. One can examine the way in which the aforementioned themes make up the emotional core of the story, help to develop its characters and relate their experiences to the real world. Firstly, the idea of love plays the most crucial role to the plot and its conflict.
Treplev, one of the work’s main protagonists, is manifested as a struggling artist trying to find his own voice. While his main trouble comes from having to define the style and trappings of his writing style, he is also tormented by unrequited love. The subject of his affections is Nina, another major character of the play. The woman has come from unfortunate circumstances, giving her the drive and ambition to strive for a successful acting career.
While the woman is initially seen as having some sort of feelings towards the writer, it quickly becomes apparent to the audience that her feelings are shallow and not entirely honest. In act 2, this is most evidently demonstrated by Nina’s inability to take Treplev’s work seriously, and an outright desire to mock it instead (Chekhov & Korenev, 2021). While Treplev himself does not get to witness the way he is being treated behind his back, this event paints a visible dichotomy between the false love of Nina and the honest infatuation of the man himself.
In contrast, we can also see another character having to deal with unrequited feelings – Masha. Seeing by the woman’s open praise of Treplev’s works, along with other behaviors exhibited throughout the play, she harbors intense feelings towards the young man, ones that are unfortunately are not being reciprocated (Chekhov & Korenev, 2021). Openly displaying her love for Treplev, she is rejected time and time again.
Another theme that can be seen with Masha is the importance of appearances. As noted by the story, Masha feels deeply discontent with her life. Having almost fully given up on being happy, she wears all black and exhibits an overall lack of care for herself. This nihilistic view of the world is also accompanied by her destructive habits, which include drinking and drug use. The appearance and character of Masha is juxtaposed to Arkadina, a famous actress and Treplev’s mother.
The older woman always takes care of her appearance and what others think of her is opposed to Masha’s general carelessness. The diametrically opposite presentations of the two characters are used thematically to show the extreme axes of self-expression and self-image. This can be most readily seen in the opening scene of the second act, where both women and Dorn are together. As the man compliments Arkadina’s age and appearance, she makes sure to note that Masha does not appear to take care of herself, looking older than a woman twice her age (Chekhov & Korenev, 2021).
This difference in looks is then partially justified by the latter’s outlook on life and general lifestyle. Both characters seem to be far from perfect, with one being obsessed with their self-image, and the other almost fully lacking even its smallest consideration. Chekhov uses the two to highlight the importance of proper self-assessment and the potential vices of both high and low self-esteem.
Chekhov, A. P., & Korenev, A. S. (2021). The seagull. Anton Korenev Entertainment.