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

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The story begins in 1866 and ends in 1868 (The journey on the Nautilus begins during the summer of1867). The story is set on the Nautilus, the submarine vessel designed by Captain Nemo. The Nautilus traverses Pacific, Indian, Atlantic, Artic and Antarctic Oceans, and the Mediterranean and Red Seas.


Major Characters

Dr. Pierre Aronnax
The narrator, aged forty. He is a former medical doctor turned scientist and lecturer at the Museum of Paris. He is unmarried and childless. He resides in Paris with his manservant, Conseil. While lecturing in the United States, he is asked by the U.S. government to join the expedition aboard the Abraham Lincoln in search of the mysterious monster that has been attacking ships.

Aronnax’s domestic servant. He is thirty years old. He follows Aronnax on all of his voyages and never offers counsel. He is knowledgeable of science, yet has little practice. He never complains.

Ned Land
A Canadian traveling on the Abraham Lincoln. He is revered as the king of harpooners. He is forty years old, large, quiet, and angry when contradicted.

Captain Nemo
The commander of the Nautilus. He is a mysterious man. He is often moved to tears, yet easily angered. He is a brilliant man who was formerly an engineer. He designed the Nautilus himself. His nationality remains unknown to the narrator.

Minor Characters

Captain Anderson
The captain of the Scotia, the ship that sank and provoked the United States to send the Abraham Lincoln in search of the Nautilus. The root word “ande” means man; therefore, Anderson can be read as son of man. It is possible that Verne employed this name because it was this final stand off--between “man” and machine--that incited government action. However, it is likely that Verne based this character on the real life Captain Anderson of the Great Eastern described in Part II.

Captain Farragut
The captain of the Abraham Lincoln. His name is taken from a Union Civil War admiral, David G. Farragut. David Farragut is famous for his statement: “Damn the torpedoes--full speed ahead!!!”

Sir Samuel Cunard
The name of the well-known Canadian ship-owner of a prestigious British and North American Line. When his ship, the Scotia is attacked, the world is outraged. Cunard’s ships have an outstanding reputation and never sink.



The protagonist of a story is the main character, who traditionally, undergoes some sort of change. He or She must usually overcome some opposing force. In Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas the protagonist is Dr. Pierre Aronnax. He is the narrator and central character of the tale. Aronnax is repeatedly described as a naturalist throughout the story. A naturalist is, essentially, a person who is well studied in natural sciences such as zoology and botany--as is Aronnax. However, within the context of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, a tale of science fiction, his position of a naturalist is juxtaposed with that which seeks to thwart nature--Captain Nemo and the Nautilus. Ironically, Aronnax’s confrontation with Nemo, during which he sees how science can be used for evil, he chooses his fellow man over science.


The antagonist of a story is the character that provides an obstacle for the protagonist. In this case the antagonist is Captain Nemo. The obstacle is the imprisonment of Aronnax and the other characters aboard the Nautilus.


The climax of a story is the major turning point that determines the outcome of the plot. It is the point to which the rising action leads. In this story the climax is in Chapter 22, “Captain Nemo’s Last Words,” when the men make the decision to escape. This is a major decision, which permanently changes their condition of imprisonment.


Also known as the resolution or denouement, this is the place in the plot where the action is resolved or clarified. In this novel, the outcome is that the men survive the giant whirlpool. Captain Nemo remains a mystery; we do not know if he has survived, nor do we know where he came from or who he really is. Aronnax plans to return to France.

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