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

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20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA: LITERARY ANALYSIS / ONLINE NOTES

CHAPTER 16: “An Excursion Over the Plains”

Summary

Ned Land did not want to wear one of the frog suits, and was discouraged by the idea of hunting underwater. Conseil said he would follow wherever his master went. Once the men suited up they were released onto the ocean floor. Upon entering the water, the heavy equipment became weightless and the men moved freely. Sunlight penetrated the water and reflected off of the perfect sand. Aronnax marveled at the variety of sea life. Aronnax observed how sound was felt more strongly because water is a greater conductor of sound than air.


CHAPTER 17: “An Underwater Forest”

Summary

Approximately and hour and a half after having entered the water, the men reached the forest that Captain Nemo considered his own. The forest was comprised of huge plantlike trees that Aronnax had never seen before. Aronnax was amazed at how everything stood perfectly straight. All that Aronnax missed was conversation. He was surprised not to be hungry after their four hour excursion; he was only very tired.

The men encountered a monstrous sea spider, which Nemo’s companion killed. The monster made Aronnax weary of what else he might meet. The men continued to venture into the forest, when it got too dark they simply switched on their lights. When they reached land, Captain Nemo stopped them suddenly. He refused to go any farther. On the way back Nemo killed a sea otter; an animal that would have sold for a good price on land. It had become very rare. The companion later killed a large bird, an albatross.

Suddenly, Nemo and his companion pushed Aronnax and Conseil down into a brush of seaweed, and laid down with them. A couple of sharks swam dangerously close to the men. Fortunately, the sharks could not see well and they were safe.


CHAPTER 18: “Four Thousand Leagues Under the Pacific”

Summary

The next morning Aronnax returned to the platform of the vessel; once again, the sea men uttered their daily phrase. It occurred to Aronnax that this foreign phrase might mean, “There is nothing in sight.” When he looked out at the ocean, he saw nothing. Aronnax observed the presence of some twenty sailors, all from various European nations. They spoke to each other in the same strange language that Aronnax could not understand.


Aronnax was startled by Captain Nemo’s sudden discussion of the personality of the sea. Aronnax could not believe the captain did not preface his statements with “good day” or “good morning.” The captain continued his discourse on the ocean and began discussing tropical and polar waters. Aronnax was outraged by the thought that Nemo might actually try to venture to the poles. Captain Nemo then quizzed Aronnax on the depth of the seas, which Nemo said he would prove were much deeper.

In the weeks that followed, Aronnax rarely saw Nemo and spent much of his time with Land and Conseil. The men spent their days talking, reading, and observing the marvelous sea life that swam before the viewing stations in the salon. One day Conseil interrupted Aronnax’s reading to show him something astonishing. There was a sunken ship outside the Nautilus. There were bodies on board the ship--sailors, a woman and her child. The men watched as sharks headed toward the bodies and the Nautilus circled the ship.


CHAPTER 19: “Vanikoro”

Summary

As the Nautilus entered more populated seas, the men saw more and more underwater destruction: sunken ships, cannon balls, anchors. They continued to journey south east and encountered various islands and underwater life.

At the end of December, they arrived at the island Vanikoro. Upon arrival, Aronnax recounted the apparently well known tale of La Pérouse’s ship wreck. In 1785 Louis XVI sent this explorer to circumnavigate the globe. In 1791 the French government became concerned that La Pérouse had not returned and sent two warships after him. The warships did not find them, despite reports of shipwrecks. Another man, Dillon, found the shipwreck at Vanikoro. He brought remains of the shipwreck back to Charles X. The man who was originally sent to search for La Pérouse went to Vanikoro when he heard rumors of the shipwreck being discovered. He persuaded the natives of the island to tell him about the shipwreck. He learned that La Pérouse had built smaller vessels but they had also wrecked. He did not know where.

Upon hearing Aronnax’s version of this tale, Captain Nemo finished the unknown ending. The men created the second group of smaller vessels and made it to the Solomon Islands, but perished between the Capes of Deception and Satisfaction. Captain Nemo had discovered papers in the ship wreck that explained the tale.


CHAPTER 20: “ Torres Strait”

Summary

On January 1, Conseil approached Aronnax on the platform and wished him a Happy New Year. Aronnax asked whether Conseil thought they would be released from their imprisonment that year. Conseil did not know what to say only that he did not know how it all would end. Conseil remarked that Ned Land, a positive spirit and Anglo-Saxon, needed meat and brandy to be happy.

One day, on the platform, the men observed Captain Nemo steering the vessel toward the Torres Strait. They thought he had gone mad, as he was headed full speed to the vast expanse of sharp coral. The Nautilus hit a reef and was stuck. They would be stuck for four days until the tides were in their favor to carry them away. Conseil and Land wanted to go on land, and asked Aronnax if he might ask Nemo. Captain Nemo gave his permission.


NOTES AND ANALYSIS OF CHAPTERS 16 - 20

The beginning of this section presents some of the many unexplainable and inconsistent aspects of this tale. The men become weightless in their frog suits when they enter the water--this is a true scientific fact. However, in the beginning of the story Aronnax and Conseil were “weighted” down by their clothing. Aronnax talks of how the sunlight shone on the ocean floor--- how is this possible? Where does the out breathing tube on the diving apparatus go? Where are the bathrooms on the Nautilus--where does the waste go?

Nemo continues to act strangely, and is not seen by the narrator for weeks. Mysterious things continue to occur. The men witness a sunken ship with dead passengers on board. The Nautilus circles the ship. The reader must consider the possibility that the vessel is responsible for this attack, as it has attacked many other ships.


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