Study Guide

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Part 1 Chapter 10

By Jules Verne

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Part 1 Chapter 10

The Man of the Sea

  • Ned lets go of the steward when "the commander of the vessel" (1.10.1-2) enters the room. The steward staggers away.
  • Our heroes wait to hear more from the captain. Finally, he breaks the silence.
  • Turns out, he speaks English, French, German, and Latin equally well; he was just playing with them before. He wanted some time to consider the situation.
  • He reveals, too, that he already knows their identities and how they ended up on his vessel.
  • Aronnax can't tell where he's from, because he speaks French without an accent, but he doesn't seem French.
  • Nemo tells them that they've disturbed him. Really put him out, you know? He has "broken with humanity" (1.10.8), and didn't expect to find himself in such a situation.
  • Aronnax tries to explain that their disturbance was accidental, but the commander reminds them that they were on a ship attempting to sink his vessel.
  • Aronnax explains the purpose of their mission, that they were hunting a "monster," but the commander fires right back. You would have fired at the vessel even if you knew its true identity, he says.
  • So, he says, he has the right to treat the three men as his prisoners. He could even have abandoned them in the sea. But he's decided to play a bit nicer.
  • When Ned suggests that only a savage would have such "rights," the commander tells them again that he has broken from society and that their ideas about "rights" don't apply to him.
  • This gets Aronnax thinking. Nemo is outside of society; he's in command of a lawless, totally unstoppable vessel. Alla this disturbs our boy Aronnax to the max.
  • At last, the commander gives the men his final ruling: you will stay on board, he tells them, you will be free, but under certain circumstances I may lock you up against your will for an unspecified period of time. (We'd like to point out that, in most democracies, under most circumstances, throwing people in prison indefinitely without formal charges or a trial or anything is pretty taboo. He's really operating outside of society now.) So, if they're cool with that condition, they can stay on board.
  • Oh, and there's another catch. Their freedom is limited to the submarine. They aren't allowed to leave it to return to the outside world. The commander wants to make sure his secrets are never revealed, and, though Land and Aronnax protest, the captain doesn't listen to them. He believe they must stay aboard or his cat'll be let out of the bag.
  • Now that all the unpleasant business has been handled, Mr. Captain appeals to the scientist in Aronnax.
  • You may have written an important novel about undersea life, he tells him, but you have much to learn. We're going to go on an underwater tour, he says, so that you can fill in the blanks.
  • Aronnax is real stoked. He doesn't think that the whole scientific journey thing quite makes up for having his freedom taken away, but it's a pretty good consolation prize. Way better than most of those prizes in Cracker Jacks boxes, anyway.
  • Aronnax poses one final question to the captain: what should we call you?
  • Why, Captain Nemo, he replies. (An important bit of info: Nemo is Latin for "no one." So Nemo's acting more than a little cagey here.)
  • Nemo calls a steward over and says something in his weird language. He tells Ned and Conseil that lunch is ready in their cabins. They leave the cell.
  • Nemo tells Aronnax that their lunch is ready in the dining room. After a short walk, they enter a fancy room, complete with oak dressers, china, porcelain, and paintings. We guess that Captain Nemo is kind of a big deal.
  • They sit down at a table filled with food. Once again, the meal is a bunch of seafood and some stuff that Aronnax can't identify.
  • Nemo tells him that most of what he's eating is new, even to him. Everything, he says, is gathered from the sea. The oceans are his to farm and to hunt in.
  • Aronnax asks him, then, how he can have meat on his table.
  • Nemo reveals that the "meat" is actually turtle, and that what he might think is stewed pork is actually "dolphin livers" (1.10.75). As it turns out, the Nautilus has a pretty good chef on board. He can even make sea slugs taste good.
  • And guess what? The food isn't the only thing taken from the sea onboard this ship. The clothes are, too. So are the beds, and the pens and ink that Aronnax will write with.
  • Nemo gushes on and on about the sea, about how it's the place where life originated, and how it's free from the rule of immoral and unjust men. It's the only truly independent thing in the whole world, he says.
  • "Here I recognize no master!" he says. "Here I am free!" (1.10.79).
  • At this point, Nemo stops talking for a bit. He's worked himself up into a now-silent tizzy.
  • Once his blood cools, he offers to take Aronnax on a tour of the Nautilus.

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