Thoughts on Anton Chekhov's The Seagull
, c'est moi. At least back in 1987. And I too had a Nina in my life and I used to think about her every day.
The first time I read Anton Chekhov
's play The Seagull
, I was in my late teens and I had a hard time understanding why all the play's characters chose to live the way they did instead of rearranging their lives in a more logical fashion. Since I had never really dated in high school and had never seriously explored the idea of romantic love, I had difficulty understanding why a person who had been romantically rejected by one person wouldn't just simply go on to another person, especially if said person obviously liked him or her a lot more than his or her original choice. I thought that the protagonist Konstantin Treplev was more than a bit foolish in his pursuit of the young would-be actress Nina -- especially when he ignored another woman named Masha, who had a crush on him -- and that Nina was more than a bit foolish in her attraction to the older man Trigorin, an established author who, within the course of the play, would seduce and abandon her. True, the ending in which Nina went mad and Konstantin killed himself was tragic. But I could not help thinking how easily it could have been avoided.
When I read the play again in my mid-twenties after I had had my own bouts with unrequited love, I understood far better the actions and motives of the play's characters. It didn't hurt that for a brief time I myself had unsuccessfully pursued a Nina of my own -- and had even seen an older, Trigorin-like person as my would-be rival for her affection. Of course, the rivalry proved to be mostly in my imagination. It had become increasingly obvious to everyone save myself that the Nina in question was never going to be romantically interested in me. And like Konstantin Treplev, I seriously considered resolving my dilemma with a self-inflicted gunshot. Fortunately, I eventually changed my mind. But it was not a decision I made lightly. Indeed, I had contemplated suicide for more than a year afterward, only abandoning the notion when it became increasingly clear that I was more likely to hurt my family with my suicide than to accomplish anything else.
Perhaps all young men of a literary inclination like to think that they're Konstantin Treplev, forever in love with a person like Nina, who will eventually reject them for someone else. And we like to cling to that belief, even if we grow up to be more like Trigorin.
In many ways, I see Chekhov's The Seagull
as an allegory about the writer's relationship with society. Like Konstantin, the writer likes to believe that his beloved -- i.e., society -- will eventually return his love and cease expending her affections on unworthier targets. Yet time and again, the writer ends up disappointed when his beloved proves to be all too human and chooses to go with the exciting and prosperous older man who will eventually break her heart rather than go with the younger, less experienced man who truly loves her.
Yet if I had won the love of my fair Nina, I would have been a very different person than I am today. And I'm not entirely convinced that I would be a better man. For knowing what it's like to be rejected has given me more sympathy for a lot of people with whom I'd not normally sympathize. And made me more emotionally generous toward the few women in my life who have professed love for me.
I won't pretend that it made me perfect.
But I hope that it did make me better.
Labels: Antón Chéjov, Konstantin Treplev, La Gaviota, Mi Vida, Pensamientos Acerca de Obras de Teatro I, Suicidio