The Quest for Meaning in Existence

Anton Chekhov’s The Sea-Gull seeks to answer one of the most crucial questions in regards to human existence: “What is life’s meaning?”. Masha, Treplev and Nina are all driven by their philosophical natures to search for meaning in their lives. At the onset of the play Masha illuminates the theme of existentialism when she voices her discontent for her mundane life. Although she is showered with romantic attention from Medviedenko (a poor school teacher), she continually wears black to signify the grief that she feels since Treplev does not return the love that she has for him. Throughout Acts I and II, she holds onto the belief that she will only find meaning in life if Treplev envelops her into his warm bosom whispering charmed lyrical verses into her ears. In the same breath, Nina aimlessly searches for her place in aristocratic Russian society before she becomes completely penniless. When Nina’s mother died she willed all her belongs to Nina’s father, perhaps under the pretense, that he would will the money to Nina at his death. However, after marrying his new wife it becomes clear that Nina will not inherit from her father, instead her stepmother will inherit the belongings. As such, she develops a plan to become a famous actress like Arkadina, who is adored by many people and has an abundance of wealth. From Nina’s goal to become an actress, it is clear that she feels that one’s purpose and meaning in life is to receive the admiration of others and to have lots of money. Treplev, too, searches for meaning in his life amidst the successes of his mother a famous actress, Arkadina, and her lover a famous writer, Trigorin. Even though, Treplev is a talented writer, who possibly could gain the same accolades Trigorin in the Russian literary community, he becomes boggled down by his inability to impress his mother and his fear of living in the shadow of Trigorin’s success that his spirit, drive and will to live erodes. All in all, it is interesting to note how Chekhov’s The Sea-Gull focuses on characters who take on the arduous search for the meaning in life.


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