The story opens in the year 1866. Everyone in Europe and America is talking about a mysterious creature that has been sinking ships. Finally, the United States government decides to intervene and commissions the Abraham Lincoln to capture and identify the creature. On board the ship are Pierre Aronnax, a renowned scientist along with his manservant, Conseil, and Ned Land the king of harpooners.
The Abraham Lincoln is attacked by the creature. Aronnax, Conseil and Land go overboard. The three men find themselves on top of the mysterious creature, which is actually a submarine vessel. They are taken on board and placed in a cell.
The men meet Captain Nemo, the commander of the vessel, known as the Nautilus. He tells them they can stay on board the ship and enjoy freedom as long as they return to the cell if asked. They are never to leave the vessel again. Ned Land says he will not promise that he will not try to escape.
Captain Nemo treats the men, especially Aronnax, very well. They are clothed and fed and may wander around the vessel at their leisure. Aronnax is thrilled by Nemo’s vast library. The men spend their time observing sea life through observation windows. Aronnax studies and writes about everything he sees.
During their time on the Nautilus, the men experience many exciting adventures. They hunt in underwater forests, visit an island with angry natives, visit the lost city of Atlantis, and fish for giant pearls. However, there are also many distressing events coupled with the erratic behavior of Captain Nemo. One night the men are asked to return to their cell. They are given sleeping pills and awake the next morning very confused. Nemo asks Aronnax to look at a crewman who has been severely injured. The man later dies and they bury him in an underground cemetery, where many other crewmen have been laid to rest.
On a voyage to the South Pole, the Nautilus becomes stuck in the ice. Everyone must take turns trying to break a hole in the ice so the vessel can get through. The ship almost runs out of its oxygen supply and the men grow tired and light headed. However, they escape just in time.
Another time, the vessel sails through an area heavily populated by giant squid, when a giant squid gets stuck in the propeller of the submarine. The men and the crew must fight off the squid with axes because they cannot be killed with bullets. While fighting, a crewmember is killed by a squid. Nemo is moved to tears.
The rising action of the story begins with Nemo’s attack on a warship. Aronnax does not know to which nation the warship belongs, but he is horrified when Captain Nemo sinks it. The men decide they must escape at all costs.
One night, while off the coast of Norway, Aronnax, Conseil and Land
plan a rash escape. To their dismay they realize they are heading toward
a giant whirlpool--one that no ship has ever survived. Amazingly, in only
a small dinghy they emerge safely. They awake in the hut of a fisherman.
At the conclusion of the story, Aronnax is awaiting his return to France
and rewriting his memoirs of his journey under the sea.
Man versus Nature
For detailed information, see the Overall Analysis Section: Themes
- Theme Analysis
The mood, or atmosphere of a book, is the general feeling of the story.
This is usually portrayed through word choice, description, and characterization.
This story is primarily mysterious and dark. The mystery results from
the author’s preoccupation with Captain Nemo’s identity. The entire plot
is based on the voyages of the Nautilus - of which we know neither
its purpose, its destination, nor its intentions. We do not know the language
spoken by the crew. We do not know Nemo’s background. We do not know where
Nemo goes when he disappears. We do not know what drives Nemo. The darkness
of the story is present from the very beginning: before we know what this
mysterious object is, we know that it destroys ships and kills innocent
people. Although Nemo is often kind and engaging, he is subject to abrupt
and sudden outbursts of rage.
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