Study Guide

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Exploration

By Jules Verne

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Part 1 Chapter 8

Where were we? What strange force was taking us away? I felt, or rather believed I felt, the machine sinking down to the furthest depths of the ocean. Fearful waking nightmares tormented me. I glimpsed a whole world of unknown animals sheltering in mysterious refuges, with the submarine vessel as one of their congeners, living, moving, formidable like them. (1.8.65)

Isn't Aronnax an expert on all things oceanic? Shouldn't he be excited to descend into the "furthest depths of the ocean"? Well, the technology of the sub is kinda futuristic, so we'd understand if Aronnax is freaked out by the whole ordeal. He doesn't trust the sub, because it's too… well, amazing to believe at this point. We're often afraid of what we don't understand, right?

"Mobilis in Mobile."

Mobile in the mobile element! The device fitted the submarine perfectly. (1.8.58-59)

More importantly, the submarine "fits" the ocean perfectly. Like the ocean, the sub is free, ever moving and changing. So we have this notion of a mobile element within a mobile element; the sub is a symbol for the ocean itself. (See our "Setting" section for more on this issue.)

Part 1 Chapter 10
Captain Nemo

"So let me tell you that you will not regret the time spent on board my vessel. You are going to travel through a wonderland. Astonishment and stupefaction will probably be your normal state of mind. You will not easily become blasé about the sights continually offered to your eyes. I am going to embark on a new underwater tour of the world—who knows, perhaps the last?—and revisit everything I have studied on my many travels; and you will be my study companion. Starting today, you will enter a new element, you will see what no man has ever seen before (for my men and I no longer count); and our planet, through my efforts, will deliver up its last secrets." (1.10.48)

Nemo makes it sound as though he has been to the edge of the universe and back, you know, as though he's seen what lives at Earth's final frontier. He certainly makes the trip seem like a lot of fun. Who do you think he's really trying to convince here: his new captive shipmates, or himself?

Part 1 Chapter 19

"It is not new continents that the earth needs, but new men!" (1.19.4)

Nemo's misanthropy runs deep. Yes, he's observed a lot of differences across the peoples of the world, but his hatred for man (and his customs) remains the same. What kind of society do you think Nemo wants? Idyllic utopias aren't always all they're cracked up to be…

Part 1 Chapter 23

"You are right, sir," he said after a moment's silence. "It is a world apart, as foreign to terra firma as the planets accompanying this globe around the sun, and we will never benefit from the studies of Saturn's or Jupiter's scientists. However, since chance has linked our two lives, I can communicate the results of my observations to you." (1.23.15)

Even a century and a half later, we can still say that there are parts of the ocean that are just as foreign to us as the far reaches of outer space. Pretty cool, huh? No wonder the "Father of Science Fiction" wrote about people exploring both kinds of terrain.

Part 2 Chapter 1

I would like to finish seeing what no man has yet seen, even if I have to pay for this insatiable need to know with my life! What have I discovered to date? Nothing, or almost nothing, since we have covered only 6,000 leagues of the Pacific! (2.1.5)

After only six thousand leagues, Aronnax is willing to give up his freedom in order to gain some knowledge. We can relate to his "insatiable need to know"; dude's got the mind of a true scientist. But how much should one be willing to sacrifice for a new discovery? Is knowledge worth the sacrifice of one life? How about many lives? And, tell it to us straight: do you think Aronnax loves science more for the thrill of discovery, or for the competitive aspects of the field?

Part 2 Chapter 4

"Well, we will enter the Atlantic, which is still unknown 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)

While Aronnax's top priority is exploration, Ned's is freedom. And doing whatever the heck he wants to do, when he wants to do it. So the two clearly don't see eye-to-eye on this whole leaving-the-Nautilus issue. Ned is the voice of reason to Aronnax's blind scientific passion.

Part 2 Chapter 9

We had arrived at a first plateau, where further surprises awaited me. Here picturesque ruins stood up, bearing the mark of man's hand and not that of the Creator. […]

But Captain Nemo came close to me and stopped me with a sign. Then, picking up a chalky piece of stone, he went up to a rock of black basalt and wrote a single word:


What a flash crossed my mind! [...] it was there before my eyes, still bearing irrefutable signs of the catastrophe that struck it. (2.9.48; 57-9)

It's interesting that one of the most amazing sights Aronnax sees on his adventures is a place once inhabited by man—not a place that few men have ever been. Do you think our man Aronnax is more interested in "the natural world" or human nature after all? Do these interests overlap at all?

Part 2 Chapter 14
Captain Nemo

"Monsieur," I said to Captain Nemo, "the honour of being the first to set foot on this land belongs to you."

"Indeed, monsieur," replied the captain, "it will bring me great joy to be the first man to leave footprints on this Polar ground." (2.14.10-11)

For someone who hates on dictators and despots, Nemo sure is fond of sticking his flag into things. We think leaders who desperately want to claim new lands for themselves are pretty egotistical, if we do say so ourselves.

Part 2 Chapter 15

"How beautiful it is! How beautiful!" exclaimed Conseil.

"Yes," I said, "it's a wonderful sight. Isn't it Ned?

"Hell, yes," riposted Land. "It's superb! I hate to have to agree. We've never seen anything like it. But this sight may cost us dear. To be frank, I think that we're seeing things here that God wished to hide from man's eyes."

Ned was right. It was too beautiful. (2.15.52-5)

Even Aronnax, a man ready to sacrifice his freedom to explore the unknown, realizes that some things are best left unexplained. Do you think that this principle applies to Nemo's past, or not?

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