Richard Bach’s short story “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” was first published in 1970. By 1972, the work reached a circulation of one million copies and gained worldwide fame.
In its genre, “A Seagull named Jonathan Livingston” gravitates to two epic forms: a story (due to its chronicle plot) and a parable (a short allegorical narrative containing religious and moral teachings).
The story-parable opens with the author’s dedication: “The True Jonathan – The Seagull Living in Each of Us.” In it, Richard Bach sets the main tone of the narrative, aimed at revealing the main artistic idea of the work: an attempt to convince the reader that he is free. The seagull Jonathan Livingston is each of us: such as he could have become if he had risen above everyday life, rushed to new knowledge and tried to know his true essence, which does not obey the laws of space or time.
The classic “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” consists of three parts. The fourth was added by the author quite recently (in 2014) and has not yet managed to reach a wide circle of readers.
The first part of the story tells the story of a unique gull named Jonathan Livingston. The first part is compositionally divided into two parts: in the first half, the main character is distinguished from the rest of the gulls (he is more interested in new flight techniques than food; his parents do not understand him, who believe that he eats little (his mother) and, if he is so drawn to new knowledge, he can study ways of getting food (father); he is not ashamed to fall into the sea, trying to achieve perfection in flight). In the second half, Jonathan Livingston, who came to his senses after an unsuccessful attempt to develop high speed, is at a turning point: having come to terms with the fact that he is a seagull and must live like everyone else, he goes home and suddenly realizes that he is already doing quite different things Seagulls – flies in the dark. New knowledge completely changes Jonathan Livingston’s view of the world: he begins to transform his physical laws under himself, achieves great success in various flight techniques, and is expelled from the Pack. The gull spends all subsequent life alone. New knowledge not only opens up spiritual prospects for him, but also greatly facilitates earthly life: Jonathan gains access to delicious fish living at sea depths; it can fly far to the mainland and feed on land insects. Bad weather no longer bothers the seagull, as it can always soar above the clouds. Jonathan’s earthly life ends with the advent of two seagulls shining like stars that call him home.
In the second part, Jonathan Livingston lives a new life in another world – more perfect than the earth, but just as physically limited – for example, in the speed that a seagull can develop. The concept of posthumous existence is built by Richard Bach in accordance with Eastern religions, which believe that Heaven is not a place, but just a path to true perfection. The last Jonathan is led by an Elder named Chiang, who teaches his ward to move in space and time with just one power of thought. Such, in the opinion of Chiang and the author himself, is possible subject to self-awareness as a being – free, devoid of any physical characteristics. Having fulfilled his mission and learning everything that a new world can give him, Chiang goes up to other, more advanced knowledge, while Jonathan comes to the idea that he needs to return to Earth. In this, the seagull sees the manifestation of true Love, which Chiang bequeathed to him to find.
The second part of the story, like the first, is divided into two halves. The second, extremely short in volume, serves as a preface for the third: in it the reader gets acquainted with a new hero – the next Exile, the seagull Fletcher Lind.
In the third and final part of the story, Jonathan Livingston, who received another reincarnation on Earth, becomes a teacher for Fletcher and six more Exiled gulls. He trains the first for three months, the rest for a month, after which he invites everyone to return to the Council Coast, thereby violating the Law on Exile and challenging the darkness and ignorance of ordinary birds. In this part of the story, the Christian idea of love for one’s neighbor – “stupid” and imperfect, comes to the fore. “Learn to see the true Seagull in them, perceiving the best that they have and helping them to consider the best,” says Jonathan Fletcher, putting in these words exclusively Orthodox meaning. The scene of the flight of Kirk Maynard, a seagull with a broken left wing, also becomes a Christian reminiscence in the story.
All the characters and events of the “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” serve as an allegory for conveying classical human ideas about the world. Seagulls are people who for the most part are preoccupied with material wealth (it is not by chance that each hero has a name and surname). Flying gulls is a style of human life based on the unshakable Law of the Pack (that is, the crowd), which does not allow us to go beyond the usual norms. The Council is a symbolic image of a court that does not accept everything that runs counter to the Law, even if it can be beneficial to the Pack. Jonathan’s desire for knowledge of the world is an attempt by individual extraordinary individuals to learn the meaning of life. The latter is conceived by Richard Bach two-sidedly: on the one hand, a person should improve, on the other, help others in this. The latter, according to the author, is true Love for one’s neighbor.