Jonathan Livingston Seagull: Summary and Plot Analysis

blue and white colored seagull flying in the air

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a short novel (or novella) written by Richard Bach in the 1960s. It is a story of a seagull whose name is Jonathan Livingston who is trying to perfect the art of flying.

Over the years, this novel has become a classic and is often considered one of the best inspirational or motivational books ever written.

Who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull?

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is written by Richard Bach.

Interestingly, it was not written as one complete novel initially; Bach wrote it as a series of short stories which was published in a magazine called “Flying” in the later half of 1960s.

Then, the series of short stories was compiled by Richard Bach and was first released as a book in 1970. The book was illustrated by Russell Munson.

jonathan livingston seagull book cover
Cover of Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Within a few years of publication, Jonathan Livingston Seagull became a best seller and sold millions of copies and became known worldwide.

Who is Jonathan Livingston Seagull?

Jonathan Livingston is the name of the protagonist of book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. He is a seagull who tries to perfect the art of flying.

The name of the novel is also the name of the protagonist of the novel’s story.

Book Summary: What is Jonathan Livingston Seagull about?

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a book by Richard Bach is a story about a seagull’s unbounded passion for flight despite rebuke from his clan, his friends and his most loved ones. His perseverance, and his unquenchable thirst for achieving perfection. Touted as One of the 50 timeless spiritual classics , you will be amazed how he has put this profound truth in such simple words.

Our seagull is bored with the mundane struggle for food every day and disheartened by the lack lustre passion-less lives the seagulls around him love and expect him to conform to. The lack of encouragement from his fellow folk does not deter him from following his passion and he continually keeps pushing himself to learn all he can about flying.

This lack of conforming to the norms does not go down well with his folks and he is subsequently expelled from the flock, bringing shame to his family. A new outcast but free nonetheless, he continues to learn, coming closer and closer to his goal of achieving perfection.

This skill acquired with practice brings him immense joy and resulting contentment in his life.Although alone now, he is a happy seagull.

One fine day, two seagulls meet him and tell him of a better world found through perfection of knowledge, he meets a fellow seagull that has the same passion for flight as himself. His dedication and love for the craft makes him a very distinguished bird and Jonathan prides himself in the fact.

white seagull flying over blue water
Jon’s dedication and love for the craft makes him a very distinguished bird. (Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay)

Here Jonathan makes friends with a wise gull that reveals to him the secret of
instantaneous movement anywhere in the world, Jonathan marvels at this skill, eventually acquires it and is humbled by his knowledge. He has acquired what he wants , but still feels empty.

Jonathan now feels the urge to return to earth to find others like himself to tell them what he’d learned and to spread his love for flight. He is successful in this endeavor and soon finds himself around other outcast but passionate seagulls.

The first of his students, Fletcher Lynd Seagull, is quick to grasp learnings from Jonathan and ultimately becomes a teacher in his own right. Jonathan leaves to teach other flock thus spreading his love for the flight and the timeless truth of
limitless human potential.

Life lessons from Jonathan Livingston Seagull

“He spoke of very simple things- that it is right for a gull to fly, that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form.

“Set aside,” came a voice from the multitude, “even if it be the Law of the Flock?”

“The only true law is that which leads to freedom,” Jonathan said. “There is no other.”

Of all the great things Jonathan Livingston seagull has said in Richard Bach’s book of the same name, this speaks the most to me.

To me Jonathan Livingston seagull brings 3 life lessons:

1- Our potential is limited only to the extent we let it to be

And I do not mean in ‘we as humans use only 10% of our potential’ way, but more often than not, we are limited by our perception of what we are capable of achieving. Changing that mindset is solely under our control. Why should we let someone else tell us what we can and can’t do?

Remember Chris from the movie ‘Pursuit of Happyness’? The scene where he tells his son, “Hey. Don’t ever let somebody tell you… You can’t do something. Not even me. …’.

That about sums it up.

2- Find your passion and be relentless in your pursuit of it

Our seagull Jonathan was exemplary in illustrating that sometimes following our passions can take us away from places and people that we hold dear, but in no way did that deter him from following his passion, or giving it his all. It’s because at the end of the day, he was answerable to himself. And so are we.

To quote Steve Jobs, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”. Being loyal to our passion brings us
profound happiness and contentment and that’s the state that we all ultimately strive for. Don’t we?

3- Pay it Forward

Jonathan didn’t just stop at achieving perfection, he took it a step further. He thought it best that learnings be shared with others, to let them know that we can think beyond our present circumstances for a blissful future.

It may not be entirely selfless given that there is a significant upliftment we feel when we help others , but Hey! its feeding two birds with one scone.

I cannot help but quote Film critic Roger Ebert who praised the book by saying ” the book was so banal that it had to be sold to adults; kids would have seen through it.”

Food for thought.

Want to read Jonathan Livingston Seagull?

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is available on Amazon if you want to get yourself this book. You can use the links given below to check the price of this book:

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2 thoughts on “Jonathan Livingston Seagull: Summary and Plot Analysis

  1. Excellent review. Leaves you with food for thought to continually aspire! Should be the first book read to a child and read over and over and…..


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