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

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CHAPTER 11: “The Sargasso Sea”


This chapter opens with a detailed explanation of the Sargasso Sea, which is a sea in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that is created by the split in the Gulf Stream. The sea covers Atlantis, and is a veritable prairie land consisting of various grasses.

The ships sails for eighteen days with little incident. Aronnax thinks about how he might persuade Nemo to free them at the end of the journey. He wonders if Nemo might accept their oath to never speak of him. One day they are chased by some boats who think they are a whale, but they dive below the surface so as to not waster the whalers’ time. Another day, Nemo decides to go to the deepest part of the ocean to make observations. Special precautions must be makes, since this is a difficult journey for even the Nautilus. Nemo and Aronnax observe the sea life together as the vessel descends. Nemo photographs the scene for Aronnax. The ship quickly returns to the surface to avoid too much exposure to the pressure of the sea.

CHAPTER 12 : “Sperm Whales and Baleen Whales”


Aronnax is surprised to see that the ship is not heading back to its original location, as he had suspected--- instead it is headed toward the South Pole. Ned grows wearier from imprisonment. Land, Conseil and Aronnax try to figure out how many men there are on board. They calculate that the Nautilus has enough of an air supply to sustain 625 men for 24 hours. However, they know there are not that many on board.

On the platform, the men observe and discuss whales. It is difficult for Ned Land to watch and not be able to strike them with his harpoon. Dr. Aronnax and Land engage in yet another one of their debates, in which Land must “see it to believe it” and Aronnax cites information he has studied.

A battle begins between a school of sperm whales and a school of baleen whales. The Nautilus submerges itself and joins the battle. At the end of the battle many whales are dead, and the Nautilus returns to the surface. It is sailing on what appears to be a sea of blood. Even Ned Land is appalled at the sight. He tells Nemo that he is a hunter, not a butcher, and this massacre was the work of butchers. Nemo remarks that he killed evil animals.

Aronnax observes that after this incident Land’s attitude toward Nemo deteriorated significantly.

CHAPTER 13: “The Ice-Cap”


There is now increasing ice in the sea as the head toward the polar ice cap. Travel became more and more difficult as the Nautilus became trapped in the ice. Once they reached the polar ice cap, Ned Land is certain they can go no farther. Aronnax, always the scientist, wants to know what is beyond the wall. When Captain Nemo asks Aronnax what he thinks of the present situation, Aronnax responds that he thinks they are caught. Nemo says Aronnax only sees snags and obstacles. He proclaims that the Nautilus will free itself and go farther. Nemo tells Aronnax he plans to pass under the ice cap.

Throughout the night the vessel descends below the ice. Conseil and Aronnax can barely sleep. The next day the Nautilus is free.

CHAPTER 14: “ The South Pole”


The men find a landmass among the ice caps, which they expected because ice caps can only form along a coast. They presume they are the first men ever to see this mad because of how impossible it is to get there. Captain Nemo is the first to step on the land. In his typical fashion, Aronnax catalogues all the vegetation and animal life of this desolate continent. Captain Nemo becomes impatient when the sun will not rise. The men return to the ship when snow begins to fall.

Conseil and Aronnax return to the land another day without Land or Nemo, and explore the territory. The next day the men (including Nemo but excluding Land) return to the land. The date is March 21, the equinox. This is the last day the sun will be available for the next six months. They must make all of their observations now. If the sun lined up with the summit of the land at noon, they could be certain they had reached the South Pole. At noon, they realized they had. After a long description of many other such discoveries, Nemo placed a black flag with a golden N on the land, naming it for himself.

CHAPTER 15: “Accident or Incident”


One night, while leaving the South Pole, Aronnax is awakened by confusion on board. The ship was turned on its side and motionless. He observed confusion all around. When they finally found Captain Nemo he told them that by accident the ship had run aground. An iceberg slid under the ship. They were emptying the pumps of the vessel to try to free it.

They spent a fitful night trying to free the Nautilus from its entrapment. When it seemed they were free, there was another collision. It seemed they were trapped.


Ned Land distinguishes himself from Captain Nemo during the incident in which the Nautilus slays numerous whales. Land calls Nemo a butcher. This shows that while Land enjoys the sport on hunting animals, he does not believe in torturing them, and he always does it with a purpose: to eat or to make a living. Nemo seems to enjoy killing innocent creatures for the pleasure of it.

Nemo’s excursion to the South Pole seems to be another example of his propensity toward madness. He apparently goes with the intention of being the first to claim the territory, yet he seems to disregard the obvious and grave risk of human life.

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