The narrator describes Captain Farragut as a good sailor who was one with the Abraham Lincoln. He is led by his faith that the monster exists. He is certain he will find the monster. The ship’s crew keeps close watch for the monster. They are also very excited and believe in the existence of the creature. Captain Farragut promises two thousand dollars to the first person to spot the creature.
The ship is equipped with every weapon of destruction. More importantly, aboard the Abraham Lincoln is Ned Land, a Canadian and the king of harpooners. He is a large and quiet man, easily angered when contradicted. He is worth the rest of the crew combined. Aronnax says that Canadians are really Frenchmen and that Land is attracted to him because of his nationality. Land’s family is from Quebec--which originally belonged to France.
Ned Land does not share Pierre Aronnax’s view that the creature is a
narwhal. Land says that is his experience as a whaler he has never seen
a narwhal puncture a ship. Aronnax tries to persuade Land with statistics
and mathematical calculations that an infinitely powerful creature could
inhabit the depth of the seas. Land becomes responsive to the possibility
that a creature might exist, but he still does not concede that such a
creature is responsible for the incidents with the ships. Land appears
to need to experience such a creature to believe in it. Aronnax believes
that Land is merely stubborn.
On June 30 (note Verne’s chronology is not always clear and is often incorrect) Land impresses the crew and Aronnax when he harpoons two whales at the request of another ship. His prowess makes Aronnax believe that he will be successful in capturing the monster. The sailors remain drawn to the waters, driven by the lure of money. Aronnax says that he is not propelled by the chance of winning the two thousand dollars; he watches only out of his own curiosity. Ned Land, conversely, spends most of his time reading and sleeping in his cabin--this behavior outrages Aronnax.
Land believes the claims of those who have encountered the monster: it is invisible and unbelievably fast. He tells Aronnax that if they consider the monster’s past habits, it is very likely that he is far away from where there are--the sight of the last incident.
After three months of seeing no sign of the creature, the crew becomes
discouraged and skeptical. They decide to return home. The captain asks
for three more days. On the third day, Ned Land spots the creature.
In these opening chapters, we are introduced to three of the four main characters: Pierre Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned Land. We also find the premise on which the conflict of the story is based--the men are seeking to destroy that which is destroying humanity. Later, when they are on board the Nautilus this conflict will change slightly to man (humanity) versus machine (the Nautilus).
Pierre Aronnax is a classic pedant. He is consumed by scholarship, almost to the extent that he does not relate to the real world. He continuously, throughout the book, makes obscure references to classical philosophers and scientists. These references rarely advance the plot, except to develop the characterization of Aronnax.
Ned Land is quite opposite of Aronnax. He is gruff and unrefined. He is described as “American,” although he is really from Canada. It is clear that Aronnax is extremely biased to French culture. Furthermore, he seems to think of American culture as unrefined.
Land and Aronnax are foils of one another in these opening chapters; that is, they are characters who, in their differences, illuminate the characteristics of the other. In the case of Aronnax and Land, Aronnax relies too much on theoretical evidence (another example of his pedantic nature) where Land relies too much on empirical evidence (he only believes what he experiences). In his official report on the situation with the monster, Aronnax offers various reasons why it is possible that a giant narwhal may exist. However, he concludes his report by saying that despite what has been “glimpsed, seen, felt, and experienced” there may be nothing in the sea at all. He says he added this statement because he was a coward and afraid of what the scientific community might think of him. This reasoning exemplifies Aronnax’s personality: he is unable to rely on his senses, or on “real life” experience. He must be able to reason everything scientifically. He is more inclined to believe science than his own experience.
Ned Land is the opposite. His excellent eye sight is symbolic of his ability
to rely on his senses. He has excellent senses--he is able to sleep and
read all day because he knows the creature is not near the boat. He does
not believe anything that he has not seen or experienced himself-this
is a reoccurring theme throughout the novel.
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