The Pressure to be GREAT

In acts one and two of The Sea-Gull, Anton Chekhov introduces to the audience a wishful playwright, Treplieff, who wishes to introduce a new art form to the theatre of his day as he “despises the modern stage” (act i). Surrounded by other artists and geniuses in this and their fields (for example, his mother, Arkadina, is a famous actress, Trigorin is a famous writer, Dorn is a popular doctor), Treplieff is particularly concerned, maybe obsessed, with establishing for himself status and position. This need to “prove himself” to the artists who surround him, particularly his mother, only lead to his own unhappiness and the disruption in life of those around him (Arkadina is uneasy concerning her son when act one ends and Treplieff declares that he will end his own life in act two). Treplieff also appears to lack belief in his own abilities, which can be seen as a contributing factor to his plight in acts one and two. He thinks of himself as being “the only nonentity among a crowd of [his mother’s] guests, all celebrated authors and artists.” (act i) Perhaps matters would have ended differently if his perception of himself had been different. Nevertheless, Treplieff’s circumstances reveal that an aristocratic profile is high-maintenance and comes with a lofty price. They also reveal that there is oft an unspoken pressure felt among individuals coming from such a background to prove themselves greatly in a particular craft and such a concept can still be found rampant in today’s society.

Additionally, through Chekhov’s characterization of Trigorin, the pressure that society puts on artists to excel and achieve is also revealed. In his dialogue with Nina in act ii, Trigorin discusses the intricate details of what being an author is like for him. He goes on to mention how discouraged he becomes after releasing a beloved work that he would have produced after the public tears it apart (not the good kind of tearing apart) and compares it to the work of others.

Then the public reads it and says: “Yes, it is clever and pretty, but not nearly as good as Tolstoi,” or “It is a lovely thing, but not as good as Turgenieff’s ‘Fathers and Sons,’ “ and so it will always be. To my dying day I shall hear people say: “Clever and pretty; clever and pretty,” and nothing more; and when I am gone, those that knew me will say as they pass my grave: “Here lies Trigorin, a clever writer, but he was not as good as Turgenieff.”

Chekhov’s critique of society and its obsession in comparing artists with one another is particularly sound. I can hear it now, “Beyoncé or Rihanna? Jay Z or ya ma?” Surely, such comparison is not healthy nor fruitful for artists nor for the public itself as it reveals an inner insecurity in the measurement of one’s worth and value. I hear a call in this bit of Trigorin’s dialogue with Nina for fair judgement of artists’ work along with many other ideas concerning the artist and his/her work. This is only example of many in acts one and two that reveal the pressure many artists experience and undergo in carrying out their lifes’ work.


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