Study Guide

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Justice

By Jules Verne

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We here at Shmoop are pretty suspicious of anyone who tries to enforce martial law. In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Aronnax calls Nemo a "terrible lawgiver" (2.21.91). But we never get a sense of what those laws are. All we know is that Nemo's got a chip on his shoulder and a heck of a weapon—and this leads to some pretty questionable scenarios. Aronnax is forced to wonder whether Nemo's attacks can possibly be justified. And then there's that whole "You guys can never, ever leave my submarine" bit. Apparently, though Nemo may speak out against tyrants and despots, there's more than a little of his sworn enemies inside of him.

Questions About Justice

  1. Nemo tells Aronnax not to hold him to society's standards. How does Nemo look if we do hold him to those standards?
  2. Aronnax tells us that Nemo does not have to answer to any man; he is only subject to the judgment of God and his conscience. But what if Nemo doesn't believe in God? What if he has no conscience?
  3. Nemo proclaims, "I am the law. I am the justice." What does he mean by this? What laws guide his actions?

Chew on This

No matter how we view them, Nemo's actions are neither just nor unjust at core. By separating himself from humanity, Nemo has separated himself from our normative ideas of morality and justice.

Though he claims to have removed himself from all regular notions of justice, Nemo's actions contradict his words. When he deems one group of people the "oppressed" and another the "oppressors," he is adopting the moral stances of society at large.

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