Friday, September 30, 2011


Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach, was published in 1970.

By 1972 the novella had sold more than a million copies.
This fable has been adapted into film, ballet, and music. It has also been widely parodied.

The book tells the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a seagull who is bored with the daily squabbles over food.

Seized by a passion for flight, he pushes himself, learning everything he can about flying, until finally his unwillingness to conform results in his expulsion from his flock.

An outcast, he continues to learn, becoming increasingly pleased with his abilities as he leads an idyllic life.

One day, Jonathan is met by two gulls who take him to a "higher plane of existence" in that there is no heaven but a better world found through perfection of knowledge, where he meets other gulls who love to fly.

He discovers that his sheer tenacity and desire to learn make him "pretty well a one-in-a-million bird."

Jonathan befriends the wisest gull in this new place, named Chiang, who takes him beyond his previous learning, teaching him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the Universe .

The secret, Chiang says, is to "begin by knowing that you have already arrived." Not satisfied with his new life, Jonathan returns to Earth to find others like him, to bring them his learning and to spread his love for flight.

His mission is successful, gathering around him others who have been outlawed for not conforming.

Ultimately, the very first of his students, Fletcher Lynd Seagull, becomes a teacher in his own right and Jonathan leaves to teach other flocks.

Part One

Part One of the book finds young Jonathan Livingston frustrated with the meaningless materialism and conformity and limitation of the seagull life.

He is seized with a passion for flight of all kinds, and his soul soars as he experiments with exhilarating challenges of daring and triumphant aerial feats.

Eventually, his lack of conformity to the limited seagull life leads him into conflict with his flock, and they turn their backs on him, casting him out of their society and exiling him.

Not deterred by this, Jonathan continues his efforts to reach higher and higher flight goals, finding he is often successful but eventually he can fly no higher.

He is then met by two radiant, loving seagulls who explain to him that he has learned much, and that they are there now to teach him more.

Part Two

In Part Two, Jonathan transcends into a society where all the gulls enjoy flying. He is only capable of this after practising hard alone for a long time (described in the first part).

In this other society, real respect emerges as a contrast of the coercive force that was keeping the former "Breakfast Flock" together.

The learning process, linking the highly experienced teacher and the diligent student, is raised into almost sacred levels, suggesting that this may be the true relation between human and God.

Because of this, each has been described as believing that human and God, regardless of the all immense difference, are sharing something of great importance that can bind them together: "You've got to understand that a seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull."

He realizes that you have to be true to yourself: "You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way."

Part Three

In the third part of the book are the last words of Jonathan's teacher: "Keep working on love."

Through his teachings, Jonathan understands that the spirit cannot be really free without the ability to forgive, and that the way to progress leads—for him, at least—through becoming a teacher, not just through working hard as a student.

Jonathan returns to the Breakfast Flock to share his newly discovered ideals and the recent tremendous experience, ready for the difficult fight against the current rules of that society.

The ability to forgive seems to be a mandatory "passing condition."

"Do you want to fly so much that you will forgive the Flock, and learn, and go back to them one day and work to help them know?" Jonathan asks his first student, Fletcher Lynd Seagull, before getting into any further talks.

The idea that the stronger can reach more by leaving the weaker friends behind seems totally rejected.

Hence, love, deserved respect, and forgiveness all seem to be equally important to the freedom from the pressure to obey the rules just because they are commonly accepted.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected by several publishers before coming to the attention of Eleanor Friede  at Macmillan in 1969. She convinced Macmillan to buy it and Bach received a $2,000 advance.

Illustrations  by  VLADISLAV  ERKO

No comments:

Post a Comment