Richard Bach

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

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  • Features an extended summary and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a high school English teacher with 20 years of experience
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Jonathan Livingston Seagull Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 17-page guide for “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 3 parts, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Perfection and Individuality.

Plot Summary

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a novella about the journey taken by a special seagull,who wants to be able to fly faster and higher than any other seagull. This journey becomes spiritual when Jonathan is banished from his Flock because he tries to be different, flying high and fast while the Flock sticks to the beaches and the fishing boats.

The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Jonathan begins to see that he can push himself to fly faster, higher, and lower than any other seagull ever has before. When he achieves one goal, he attempts another. All the while, his mother and the rest of his Flock want him to be just a normal gull. But, there is something driving Jonathan to be more than a typical gull. He knows that his body can do more and he wants to experience the exhilaration of flying above the clouds as fast as he can. His attempts eventually lead to him being cast out by his Flock, who deem him an Outcast.

At the end of the first section, during one of his flying escapades, Jonathan meets a pair of seagulls who seem to be glowing. They take him into a state of transcendence where all of the seagulls practice flying like he does. These special gulls introduce themselves as his brothers, and together they fly off into the “perfect dark sky” (53).

In the second section, Jonathan believes he is in heaven, as he realizes that he is flying higher and more easily than ever before. His escorts leave him and he lands on a beach with other gulls. He meets a magnificent gull named Sullivan. Jonathan works with Sullivan, who gives him lessons in flying and spirituality. Sullivan informs Jonathan that he is a “one-in-a-million-bird” (61), and explains how all of the birds arrived at the beach. Eventually, Jonathan gets to meet the Elder, Chiang.

The book explores the idea that when someone is seeking a teacher, the teacher arrives. It seems that every time Jonathan is ready for something new, that thing arrives—whether it is the opportunity to live outside the Flock or the opportunity to work with a spiritual teacher.

Once Jonathan begins to work with the Elder, he learns about more than flying. Chiang teaches Jonathan to disappear and appear at will. Eventually, Chiang vanishes permanently (as all spiritual teachers must do) and Jonathan begins to take on the role of spiritual adviser to seagulls that seek his wisdom and abilities.

As part three begins, Jonathan takes Fletcher Seagull on as his student. They begin flying lessons and during those lessons, other outcast seagulls join in. As Jonathan realizes that he must return to the Flock, he encourages his students to fly back to the Flock’s beach. Eventually, other seagulls from the Flock that cast him out begin to look for him so they can learn from him and from Fletcher. Jonathan and his students show off their skills and, slowly, members of the Flock begin to take notice and take part in the lesson. But Jonathan takes it too far when he encourages Fletcher to fly too fast and too high. Fletcher crashes into a cliff, but does not die. The Flock is shocked by what it sees and thinks that Jonathan is the devil who has come to break up the Flock. In response, the Flock tries to kill Jonathan.

After the attack, Jonathan and Fletcher discuss love, and decide that real love is seeing the good in everyone. Once Jonathan realizes he is no longer needed, he disappears and lets Fletcher continue his work. It is easy to see the physical and spiritual growth that Jonathan experiences by the end of the novella, as he forgives the Flock for banishing him and leaves behind a wise seagull to continue his work.

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Part One