Jonathan Livingston Seagull Summary and Analysis: Richard Bach

Read our complete notes below on Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a fable in novella form written by Richard Bach. Our notes cover Jonathan Livingston Seagull summary, characters, themes, and analysis.

Introduction:

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a novella written by an American novelist and pilot Richard Bach in 1970. He has written several fictions works as A Gift of Wings in 1974, Illusions: The Adventure of a Reluctant Messiah in 1977, and non-fiction related to flights. Majority of his work is about flying that shows his great love and affection for it.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a novel about bird known as Jonathan. Jonathan is an ambitious bird who has high dreams and felt bored about the daily routine life. He believes that besides searching and hunting for food, there are more meaningful things to do in life. Being different from the other member of the group, he is abandoned by his Flock. From that point, his life spiritual life as a seagull starts. He, though faces a lot of obstacles in achieving his goals, he never gives up.

The novel, being an allegory, is full of symbols. The title seagull itself shows a symbol.  Besides this, the other symbols in the novel such as eating, flying, and heaven are the most significant one.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Summary:

The novella, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, is a story of the seagull’s journey who desires to fly more fast and high than any other seagull. Trying to be different from the Flock and in the desire of flying faster and higher, Jonathan is banished from the Flock while the Flock adheres to the coastlines and the fishing liners. From this point, his spiritual journey starts.

The novella has been divided into three parts. The first part of the novel deals with Jonathan’s recognition of himself to be able to fly faster, higher and lower than any other seagull of his Flock. After achieving one goal, he goes for the second. However, his Flock, as well as his mother, wants him to be a normal seagull. Yet, something was motivating Jonathan from inside to be more than a normal, typical gull. He distinguishes his body able to do more and he desires to skill that delight of flying above the clouds as reckless as he can. Eventually, his Flock cast him out because of his unusual attempts, deeming him an outcast.

Jonathan, at the end of part one, during his one of the flying adventures, meets a pair of tanned seagulls. They take him to a place where all the other seagulls practice flying like him. All of them introduce themselves as his brothers, together flying off into the sky that is “perfect dark”.

Jonathan, in the second part of the novella, believes himself to be in heaven by realizing that he is flying more easily and higher than ever before. He lands with the other gull on the beach when his companions leave him. There, he meets Sullivan, a magnificent gull. Later Jonathan works with this magnificent gull who teaches him lessons in spirituality along with flying. Sullivan tells Jonathan that he is a “one in a million birds” and explains him of how the birds arrived at the beach. Ultimately, Jonathan meets Elder Gull, Chiang.

The idea, whenever you seek something, the thing arrives in you, is best explored in the novella. When Jonathan seeks a teacher, the teacher is there for him; whenever Jonathan attempts to do something new and is ready for it, it arrives – be it his opportunity to work without the Flock or his need for a spiritual teacher.

In the third part of the novella, Jonathan starts teaching Fletcher Seagull, taking him as his student. While having their flying lessons, some outcast seagulls also join them. He reassures his students to fly back to their Flock’s beach, realizing that he must go back to his Flock. Ultimately, the Flock that abandoned him earlier, starts searching for him so as to learn from Jonathan and his student Fletcher. Both of them display their skills and gradually the Flock members start taking part in the lessons. Jonathan, however, goes too far in encouraging Fletcher to fly too high and too fast that results in Fletcher crash into a cliff yet do not die. Shocking, the flock considers Jonathan a devil and attempts to kill him.

After the misadventures, both Jonathan and Fletcher argues on love and decides that to see good in everyone is real love. Jonathan disappears after realizing that he is no longer needed as a teacher and let Fletcher continue his work himself. The physical and spiritual growth of Jonathan is evident in the novella that enables him to forgive the Flock that abandoned him and also leaving behind a wise seagull in his place.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Characters Analysis:

Jonathan:

He is the protagonist of the novel, often called Jon by people surrounding him. He is a unique “one in a million bird” who varies very much from the other members of his Flock. He is very much obsessed with flight. He recognizes in himself the ability to fly higher and faster than any other gull of his Flock, however, he was not admired by his colleagues, render him an outcast, and abandoning him. In the Far Cliffs, Jonathan comes across two gleaming gulls who take him to the realm of advanced gull where he not only get physical education but also spiritual education. He learns about his own place in the world. Chiang, the Elder Gull, teaches him to see the limits of his body while he himself recognizes that his body, mind, and spirit are essential parts that exist all across space. Mastering instantaneous conveyance, he brings to earth what he has learned in the space and guides a chunk of people in flight. Jonathan is modest but determined, in addition to his inquisitiveness, motivation, and longing to help others above all else makes him superior to mankind.

Fletcher Lynd Seagull:

He is a young gull who has almost the same experiences as Jonathan. Like Jonathan, he is abandoned by his own Flock. He, then, makes his way to Farr Cliffs where he meets Jonathan. Later, he becomes a good friend and pupil of Jonathan, and because of his strength and skill along with his desire to learn, he becomes a flawless flight-student. After hearing the rumor of being divine, Jonathan leaves the Earth and hands over his legacy to Fletcher who has become his closest confidant so far. Afterward, he bears the burden of being the closest friend to Jonathan.

Chiang:

In Jonathan’s new Flock, he is one of the Elder Gulls. An extremely skilled flyer, he age doesn’t weaken him like other elder gulls, however, has empowered him more. He encourages Jonathan to stop seeing himself trapped inside the body. He made Jonathan recognizes the true place of every gull i.e. everywhere at once across space and time. Chiang’s instruction plays a vital role in Jonathan’s progression and evolution. It is because of Chiang instruction that Jonathan is able to navigate enormous distances in seconds.

Anthony Seagull:

He is a bird who doubts the meaning of life and declines to believe the fervent dogma that glorifies Jonathan. He lives in the time two hundred years after Jonathan has left the Earth. When this doubtful bird attempts to kill himself by driving into the sea, he is rescued by a bird by admiring his flight skill. The bird who rescued him introduces himself as Jon.

Elder Gull:

In Jonathan’s original flock, he is the Elder Gull. As a consequence of Jonathan reckless trialing with flights, he banishes Jonathan from the Flock to the Far Cliffs, proclaiming him an outcast.

Sullivan:

When Jonathan reaches the Far Cliff, Sullivan instructs him. He encourages him in his experiments with the flight practices and techniques. He proclaims that in the “ten thousand years”, Jonathan is the most fearless gull he has mentored.

Henry Calvin Gull:

He is one of Jonathan’s students at flight.

Kirk Maynard Gull:

A lame gull whose wings are wrecked and despite him wrecked wings, he wants to among Jonathan’s pupils. He is apparently astonished and able to fly when Jonathan indications his that he is a free gull.

Terrence Lowell Gull:

He is an outcast bird who join Jonathan’s Flock.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Themes

Individualism vs. Collectivism:

Richard’s characters Jonathan Livingston is an independent man who prioritizes practicing aerodynamics than fishing boats in the search of food. Jonathan’s steadfast individualism primarily appears in straight conflict to the collectivism of the Flock. The Flock members follow the same boring, routine every day in pursuit of food without question. Though, individualism and collectivism do not stand in direct opposition to each other. When Jonathan becomes a member of new mystical Flock, each member of which is Outcast in their original groups, Richard makes a complex argument that without a supportive and solid community, an individual cannot flourish. Similarly, a successful community will be composed of the individuals whose individuality in thoughts and action encourages and cultivates other people around them.

Within the Flock, at the start of the novel, Jonathan is alone, however, it is his own enterprise towards individualism that isolates him from his fellow members. The desire to make himself popular with other birds is outweighed by his love for flying. When the other gulls are living to eat, Jonathan is finding ways of recognizing his abilities to achieve more and more. When Jonathan is banished from the Flock by the Elder Gull, his only sorrow is that the Flock, a collective, is unable to recognize his glory of flight, not the solitude. Despite the fact that Jonathan has been alone even in his flock, his banishment from the Flock frightens him. However, he reinforces the idea that he is meant to be alone and this reflects his primary concept that collectivism is something that restricts and opposes individuality.

Jonathan relishes his isolation till the momentous day as soon as he discovers himself carried up to a new design of survival; he meets a new mystical Flock of seagulls who hold the morals, objectives, and queries that Jonathan has taken all his life. In his new place, Jonathan experiences the productive aspects of collectivism. Like him, some other members of the new Folk also experienced isolation however, nor the all are tighter giving strength to one another and are free to practice flight, learn, grow and improve. They come to recognize their own inherent perfection and the idea of their existence in space and time. In this new dominion, Jonathan Livingston Seagull experiences how collection of people can consent for the development and promotion of every individual member of a group. He finds other members in the new Flock who have faced hardships like him in their lives. Yet, now they are now free to practice their aerodynamic skills and are attempting to grow, learn and improve by understanding their own inherit perfection. They begin to realizes that heaven, their conscious is anywhere in the space and time not in a specific place. Jonathan desires to device the equally courteous, officious, and promising collectivism he has practiced in this advanced demesne back on earth after understanding the positive aspects of collectivism.

Innovation vs. Tradition:

For the sake self-discovery, progress, and innovation, what requires is to have a painful or difficult breakup with tradition. Jonathan performs extremely difficult and dangerous drills to free himself from the boring and rigid routine of the Flock. He is convinced that life is more than searching for food. In order to evolve and grow, he sacrifices a lot. His Flock renders him Outcast when he breaks with the tradition. Over Jonathan, Bach allegorizes mortality’s affinity to pursue ease in the acquainted, or else in stress-free responses, and contends that this instinct is straight at chances with the expense and bravery compulsory for the honest invention.

Jonathan desires to go beyond the boundaries, to break all the records; he desires to change the status quo and to do what no gull has ever dreamt of. To achieve his end, he performs difficult, innovative aerodynamics, however, he is disappointed by his fellows who sees his skills as offensive.  Instead of praising him, his Flock publicly ashamed him and then banished him. Until he joins the other Flock, Jonathan fears that he will never be able to display his innovative aerodynamic skills. Jonathan wonders himself as he realizes even novel, more inspiring objectives, and develops strong-minded to take the developments he has prepared back to the Flock he adored and left. In permitting Jonathan to attain perfection of seagull understanding only once he moves to another plan, Bach illustrates the tyrannical, roasting genuineness of unnecessary devotion to tradition, and reasons that incapacitating that domination needs a brave if alarming part into the mysterious.

The story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a deterrent story of kinds meant to prove how the line amid useful innovation and fundamental renovation of society is essential. The stronger the society stick to its traditions and customs, the more difficult to introduce innovation in a conservative society. Over Jonathan’s metaphorical story, Bach contends that development and innovation are a nonstop practice: one stimulus of revolution can generate a wave of transformation, but the contest that fashioned the catalyst in the first place must repeatedly be revived, or society will drop back into its indolent, laidback habits.

Self-Determinism through time, body and spirit:

The story of Jonathan Livingston seagull is a song to self-determinism through the perfection of body and detection of unlimited nature of the body, mind, and spirit. Jonathan desires to be the controller of his own life and wants to govern himself independents of his small-minded Flock. He distinguishes himself from the Flock by practicing acrobatics and explores the goals in his little life. However, he, then, becomes a professional flyer, practicing aerodynamics in a peaceful environment with other gulls of Far Cliffs. He realizes that flying is a means to integrate his body, mind, and spirit as a singular unit. Bach, by narrating the story of Jonathan’s journey toward self-determination and self-discovery, argues that our being which the sum total of spirit, mind, and body, is an unlimited unit extends to the fullest capability and potential when are in harmony with each other. Bach, through Jonathan’s journey toward perfection, argues the meaning of struggling to support one’s body, mind, and spirit in synchronicity.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, as a novella is considered as a guidebook, a work supporting the search of spiritual unity, and a religious allegory. The author himself has had experienced life-threatening risky experiments in his youth and wishes to convey a message of gratitude, peace and utilizing life not only in search of food but for a higher meaning. He created a character that may serve as an inspiration for others by self-determination and self-actualization and which can only be achieved through the unification of mind, body, and spirit.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Analysis

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a novel about bird known as Jonathan. Jonathan is an ambitious bird who has high dreams felt bored about the daily routine life. He believes that besides searching and hunting for food, there are more meaningful things to do in life. Being different from the other member of the group, he is abandoned by his Flock. From that point, his life spiritual life as a seagull starts. He, though faces a lot of obstacles in achieving his goals, he never gives up.

The novel, being an allegory, is full of symbols. The title seagull itself shows a symbol.  Besides this, the other symbols in the novel such as eating, flying, and heaven are the most significant one.

Seagull, an animal, is the main character of the novel. The novel is an allegory in the first glance, however, it demonstrates a deeper meaning. The symbol seagull represents the human being. The writer relates seagull with a human i.e. how human deals with the problems in their life. Often people encounter dilemmatic problems and are confused to follow their heart or society. In dealing with such problems, not all people succeed. In dealing with the problem, a change and transformation occur in a person. The successors evolve into a higher level person. While the one who does not succeed is dragged into the “comfort zone” of life, enjoying their being ordinary life and change themselves according to society. They are always in a struggle to harmonize with society.

Ordinary people who try to maintain their position in their society has only one end i.e. eating (haunting for food). As when Jonathan practices a higher flight than ordinary, he is banished from the Flock considering him a betrayer. The Flock considers Jonathan different from them and Jonathan faces the consequences of being not ordinary. Jonathan, in order to achieve his ends, has to leave the Flock. Here, Bach illustrates the idea that if you commit something to achieve in your life, you must have to be strong enough to face any kind of consequences.

Jonathan, in practicing a higher flight, reaches Heaven where evolve to be a spiritual gull. He becomes more mature and religious. He realizes that he is only one step away from perfection which is only the image of The Great Gull (God).  Whenever a person realizes his perfection, he can discover heaven anywhere. The way we deal with our life determines our insight toward life. We can have heaven in our life, in our job, and in our family. The place and time of heaven are meaningless. It is upon the mind of a person to create a hell out of heaven and heaven out hell.

Moreover, society always opposes the change, yet it doesn’t mean that we should stop searching for the change. The radical change in any society can be beneficial and that help the society to evolve. No society accept sudden change however, true teaching is necessary to have a change.

The novel illustrates the idea that the biggest obstacle in our life is ourselves, our thinking. If one keeps on thinking that we are a little creature, unable to do anything besides searching for food; we are ordinary people, we will be ordinary. The way we think of ourselves shape our personality. A person can only be extraordinary if he thinks himself to be extraordinary.