20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
by Jules Verne
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Part 2 Chapter 16 Summary
Not Enough Air
- Now Nemo gets real. "Messieurs," he says to Aronnax, Ned, and Conseil, "[…] there are two ways of dying in the circumstances in which we find ourselves" (2.16.3).
- The first? Asphyxiation.
- The second? Getting crushed under the ice.
- Neither of these seems like good options.
- Again, Aronnax is optimistic. The air tanks are full, he says, so asphyxiation shouldn't be a problem.
- Unless we can't get out in the next forty-eight hours, says Nemo.
- Well, then let's make sure we get out by then, says Aronnax. Ugh. It doesn't take a scientist to figure that out. We're bored with this conversation. Time for some action.
- Aronnax watches the crewmen (and a surprisingly cooperative Ned) get to work. They try to break the Nautilus out of the ice with pickaxes.
- After a while, Ned and the crewmen take a break; Aronnax, Conseil, and a fresh crew take over.
- They make a lot of headway, but things still aren't looking so hot (hilarious, we know). Even if they can break out of the ice, they still need to find a way to surface.
- Aronnax realizes that new ice could just as easily form as they're working, crushing the Nautilus. Still, the work continues.
- The whole time, oxygen supplies are getting lower. Aronnax is starting to feel weaker and weaker. He wishes they could pull oxygen from the water but they can't.
- They continue working into the next day, but they're in constant danger of being crushed by newly formed ice. To make matters worse, they only have enough air to make it one more day.
- Good thing Nemo has a moment of inspiration. "Boiling water" he says, and "Boiling water!" cries Aronnax (2.16.52-3). By pumping out hot water, they can prevent new ice from forming around the Nautilus. So that problem is solved.
- Now they only have to deal with the whole asphyxiation bit.
- A new day rolls around, and they still have a lot of work to do. Aronnax starts to panic. He becomes incredibly weak.
- Conseil is disturbed to see his master in distress. "Ah," he says, "if only I could refrain from breathing in order to leave more air for monsieur!" (2.16.64). This guy sure is dedicated… a little too dedicated, maybe.
- Still, getting outside and working is actually a nice break. The diving tanks are filled with good air, unlike the Nautilus.
- When he comes back from his shift, though, Aronnax feels worse.
- Five days in—guess they had more than forty-eight hours?—and with only a few feet of ice left, Nemo goes for broke. He fills the Nautilus's tanks with water and lets the sub's weight do the work.
- It busts through the ice and sinks like a lead balloon. As quickly as it falls, it zooms back up, looking for an opening in the ice.
- Aronnax is at the end of his rope. He's just barely hanging on, just barely breathing; he's about to die.
- Suddenly, he jolts awake. Fresh air enters his lungs. He thinks they've gotten through the ice, but no, Conseil and Ned have just done him a huge solid. They've saved some oxygen in one of the diving tanks, and now they're giving him some much-needed air.
- Then, poof, they make it to the surface. The Nautilus busts right up through the ice.
- The hatches are opened and that sweet, fresh air comes flowing on in.
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