20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Looking for Land
Hark, Land, ho! Another meaningful name, eh Mr. Verne? We see what you're doing here. So, Ned Land is a bit of a contradiction. He's a harpooner, a man of the sea, but his name is Land. And he spends most of the book trying to get back onto that dry, dirt-y stuff.
While Aronnax aspires to lofty knowledge and greatness and all, Ned's desires are pretty basic. He likes freedom, hunting, and eating what he hunts. As we see early on, Ned classifies fish based on the way they taste. He has no time for Conseil's scientific classification gobbledygook, and he has even less patience for Aronnax's starry eyes (for the deep sea).
We'd get tired of a buddy who said things like this to us:
Ah, friend Ned, are you already tired of our journey under the seas? Are you already blasé about this constantly changing spectacle of submarine marvels? For my part, I would be most upset to come to the end of this voyage which so few men have had the chance to make. (2.4.13)
To be honest, Ned has been ready to peace the heck outta the Nautilus since day one. There's really very little to satisfy Ned's desires inside of a stupid electric submarine. Aronnax and Conseil are sort of compensated for their imprisonment because they have the chance to look at all sorts of undersea animals and other outlandish phenomena.
But Ned… well, Ned gets to kill a dugong and shoot some kangaroos. As Aronnax says to Nemo:
For me, study is a support, a powerful diversion, an absorption, a passion which can help me forget everything. For Ned, not so much, and there's nothing on board the Nautilus to fill that hole. (1.19.59)
A Straight-Shootin' Soul
Now, don't go thinking that Ned's a totally sad sack. He's capable of amazing acts of bravery. He saves Nemo from a killer shark, and puts his life on the line to take down a killer squid.
He's simply—and this may come as a shock—too sensitive, and too used to living on land, to enjoy himself on the Nautilus. By the end of the book, he's on the verge of suicide, and it's only an act of daring that frees him from Nemo's grasp… And the clutches of the ever-frightening Maelstrom (a.k.a. the Whirlpool of Doom).
Finally, it's important to note that, according to Aronnax, Land is both French-Canadian and American. He speaks English and French with equal ease, and seems to be both typically Anglo-Saxon and classically French. So, in stark contrast to Aronnax and Nemo's staunch nationalism, this guy's kind of a melting pot.
Ned's multiple nationalities speak to his general level-headedness. Ned believes in what he sees (with that absolutely perfect vision of his), not what he reads in stuffy old books, unlike Professor Arrogance—er, Aronnax. Land is the doer to Aronnax's thinker.
To be sure, Ned is the one who keeps Aronnax from totally going off the deep end (har har) along with Nemo. He's Aronnax's foil. (See our "Character Roles" section for more on the antagonistic relationship between these two characters.)Ned Land's Timeline