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

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CHAPTER 11: “The Nautilus”


In Chapter 11 Captain Nemo gives Dr. Aronnax a tour of the peculiar vessel, the Nautilus. The first place they visit is the library. The library is rich and vast. Aronnax is shocked at how well equipped it is. Nemo tells him it holds twelve thousand volumes. The captain offers Aronnax a cigar that has been harvested from sea weed rich in nicotine; Aronnax is impressed.

The next room Aronnax visits is the salon, which is filled with master paintings, a piano, and scores of music. In addition to these wonders, were natural rarities such as plants, shells, and other rare specimens.

Nemo shows Aronnax his cabin, which is an elegant room adjoined to the captain’s bedroom. The captain’s room is bare, illuminated by indirect light, and furnished by iron.

CHAPTER 12: “All by Electricity”


In his bedroom, Captain Nemo explained the scientific instruments seen throughout the Nautilus. Nemo explained the basic instruments which measured things such as pressure and temperature. However, the most important element to his ship, he explained, was electricity. All the captain would say about the electricity was that it was not the common sort. The captain extracted sodium from the water to mix with mercury and use as batteries. Furthermore, the ship had the capacity to store air so that it could remain at the depths of the sea for as long as the captain wished.

Captain Nemo then showed Aronnax his amazing dinghy, which he could use underwater and form which he could telegraph the Nautilus when he wanted to be picked up. In the kitchen Aronnax learned that that all of the cooking was done by electricity as well. The engine room was brightly lit and Aronnax curiously examined it. Still, he was fraught with the question of how electricity could be so powerful.

CHAPTER 13: “A Few Figures”


Back in the drawing room, Captain Nemo offers Aronnax a blueprint of the ship in an effort to answer his questions. In this section, Captain Nemo explains the specific dimensions of the ship. The men continue in a scientific discussion of measurements and elements that affect the travel of the ship. Captain Nemo explains how he constructed the Nautilus with great enthusiasm.

Aronnax discovers that Nemo was an engineer who studied throughout the world. He was able to keep the construction of the vessel a secret by receiving each of the parts from different places across the globe and ordering them under different names. His workshop was a small desert island. Upon Aronnax’s questioning, Nemo tells him that he is very, very rich-- richer than Aronnax’s beloved France.

CHAPTER 14:”The Black River”


This chapter begins with a discussion of the vastness of the sea and how every period of geological history has been a period of fire followed by a period of water. At first there was nothing but the ocean.

Captain Nemo takes Aronnax to the surface to determine their location; they are off the coast of Japan. Aronnax observes that with nothing in sight, the sea is like a vast desert. When Captain Nemo retires, leaving Aronnax to his studies, Aronnax is troubled by the identity of the captain and his hatred for humanity.

While Aronnax was observing how the Nautilus was about to cross the Black River, Ned Land and Conseil appeared. Aronnax tried to convince Land that it was best not to try to escape and Land argued that they were in a metal prison. Just then the ceiling went dark and panels began moving to reveal the sea through two oval shaped windows. The men were amazed by what they saw.

When Land expressed confusion about where the fish were, Conseil asked why he cared, since he did not know about fish. Land claimed he did know about them since he was a fisherman. Conseil said Land was a killer of fish, and did not know how to classify them. The men continued the debate--each knowing about different aspects of fish.

CHAPTER 15: “A Written Invitation”


This chapter opens with the morning after the viewing session. Conseil comes to Aronnax’s chamber to attend to his needs, still acting the role of the domestic servant. Aronnax spent the day in the salon, studying. Captain Nemo never appeared. The following day continued the same, and Aronnax began to keep a diary of his adventures.

The following five days, Aronnax began his day at the platform of the vessel. Each morning he heard the officers of the vessel say and repeated the phrase: “Nautron respoc lorni virch.” Although Aronnax did not understand the phrase he recognized it each time. On the sixth day, Aronnax received a letter from Captain Nemo requesting his presence, along with Land and Conseil, for a hunting trip the following day in the forests of the Crespo Island.

Aronnax was shocked to learn the next day that Captain Nemo was referring to underwater forests, where he intended to hunt using guns without getting wet. At breakfast, Nemo explained that they would use an improved version of the Rouquayrol-Denayrouze apparatus. This consisted of tanks worn on one’s back attached to a mouth piece. The guns they would use were air guns equipped with glass bullets.


This section allows for a closer look at Captain Nemo; yet, the reader still knows very little about him. While he decorates the vessel lavishly, his own room is bare and austere. It is possible that he is punishing himself for something. His room may be interpreted as a symbol of the Captain himself: his exterior (the extravagantly decorated ship) is commanding and intimidating--his interior (his room) is hollow, and lonely.

This section also illuminates how the Nautilus functions. Captain Nemo has harnessed scientific discovery and breakthroughs to create this incredible vessel. The reader must recall the horror this ship has already caused, and the many lives that have been lost because of it. As the book continues it becomes apparent that the ship also has done many good things and is of immense value to humanity when properly used. This is another reoccurring theme in the novel: science’s potential for disaster. This novel was written in 1870 in the midst of widespread scientific discovery and advancement. This advancement was accompanied with the underlying fear of the unknown.

The mysterious mood of the novel is seen in the marvels the men encounter that were previously unknown. They are truly in uncharted waters.

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