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Study Guide: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES / ANALYSIS

PART I

CHAPTER 1: “A Shifting Reef”

Summary

The first chapter opens in the year 1866. Apparently, an “unexplainable” and “strange” event has occurred. Everyone in Europe and America is talking about this event. The sea men, in particular, are disturbed. Throughout the summer of 1866, various ships report the sighting of a huge creature, rapidly moving and with blowholes.

In all of the cities people sing about and discuss the “monster.” Even the scientific community debates over the existence and nature of the creature. By the beginning of 1867, the discussion of the monster settles a bit. However, on March 5 another ship was struck. Three weeks later an identical accident occurs. The second accident, which happens to a ship-- the Scotia-from a very prestigious line, incensed the public. All shipwrecks come to be blamed on the monster. The people on both continents demand that the waters be rid of the monster--whatever the cost.



CHAPTER 2: “Pros and Cons”

Summary

The narrator of the story, Pierre Aronnax, introduces himself as a scientist and lecturer at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. For the six months prior to the attack of the Scotia he has been doing work in the Badlands of Nebraska. Shortly after the Scotia was hit, he travels to New York to organize his specimens and await return to Paris.

Debate rages over what the cause of the accidents could be. The ideas of a floating reef or an enormous ship wreck are quickly rejected. People are left with two possible solutions: a gigantic monster or a submarine vessel.

Aronnax tells us that it is unlikely that the accidents were caused by a submarine vessel. It is highly unlikely that an individual would have the vast resources to produce such a mechanical wonder. It is also unlikely that a government would create the vessel as an instrument of war because the governments - following the incident with the Scotia--denied creating any secret submarine. The narrator says that in the interest of the public and intercontinental communication, the governments have to be believed.

As the monster theory gained more strength, the narrator was consulted for his expertise. He previously published a two volume work, titled The Mysteries of the Ocean Deeps. Forced to make some conclusion, Aronnax makes a statement about the monster, saying either they do not know what it is because they have not discovered all species of animals, or it is a Great Narwhal. This creature is an exaggeration of a common narwhal, which is a sea unicorn. While the common narwhal can reach sixty feet, the Great Narwhal is ten times, or more, larger. Its power is proportional to its size. The horn of a narwhal is ivory and has the hardness of steel. Narwhals frequently attack whales and ships. A Great Narwhal would be exponentially more dangerous than a common narwhal.

The narrator’s article spawns considerable debate. The governments on each side of the Atlantic decide to hunt the monster. The United States deploys its ship the Abraham Lincoln. However, the monster halted its destruction. Finally, on July 3 the monster attacks in the Pacific Ocean. Aronnax receives a letter from the secretary to the United States Navy that they would like him to join in the expedition aboard the Abraham Lincoln, set to sail the Pacific Ocean.


CHAPTER 3: “As Monsieur Pleases”

Summary

Upon reading the letter from the Navy Secretary, Aronnax tells us that he realized his main purpose in life was to rid the world of the monster. Despite his fatigue from traveling for so long and longing for home, Aronnax accepts the American government’s invitation. He believes the monster will end up in the waters off the French coast as a special favor to him, and because “all roads lead to Europe.”

Aronnax and his domestic servant, Conseil, make immediate preparations and board the Abraham Lincoln, where they meet Captain Farragut--the ship’s captain.


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