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

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20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA: BOOK REVIEW / ANALYSIS

CHAPTER 21: “A Massacre”

Summary

Aronnax observes the captain as he tells the story of the shipwreck and decides that it is a deep and unusual hatred that confines him to the Nautilus. At the end of his story there is a small explosion. Aronnax races to the platform and finds a cannon has been fired. The cannon has been fired from a warship, though they cannot tell what the ship’s nationality is. Ned Land suggests that if the ship comes within one mile, they should throw themselves into the sea. The warship continues to fire at the vessel and Aronnax becomes convinces that Nemo has been using the Nautilus for revenge. Land waves a handkerchief in hopes the men on the warship will know he is an honest man. Captain Nemo sees him and throws him to the ground. Nemo’s physical appearance has become terrifying. He is pale and angry. The captain then raises his flag. He yells at the men to go down to their cell because he will sink the war ship.

Aronnax later returns to Nemo who tells him that “they” - the country to which the warship belongs--are the oppressors and the reason he has lost everything he once had. When Aronnax sees Land, he tells him they must escape. They wait for night fall.

Nemo remains on the platform all night. When the chance finally comes for the men to escape, the Nautilus begins to descend below the sea again. They lose their chance. The Nautilus sinks the warship. Aronnax watches as it sinks to the bottom.

Aronnax watches Nemo walk into his room. He notices a portrait of a woman and two small children. Nemo reaches for it and breaks into sobs.


CHAPTER 22: “Captain Nemo’s Last Words”

Summary

As Chapter 22 opens, everything on the ship is dark. Aronnax is in a state of horror after having witnessed such a gruesome scene. Although he understands now that Nemo has obviously endured some sort of terrible tragedy at the hands of his fellow man, Aronnax does not think there is any way to justify his actions.

Aronnax finds Conseil and Land. The lights come back on and the men realize they are heading, at an incredible speed, north to the Artic Sea. The Nautilus travels in this manner for three weeks. Neither Nemo nor his crew are ever seen. One day while Aronnax is dozing, Land wakes him, saying they will escape that night. Land believes all surveillance is gone on board. They are twenty miles off the coast of a land he does not recognize. They decided that regardless of the weather (the sea appears stormy) they will escape; they will even risk death.

That evening, Aronnax grows restless. He tries to remember all the treasures in Nemo’s museum because he is certain they will disappear with Nemo one day on the bottom of the sea. Then, Aronnax hears Nemo playing sad music on the organ--in the salon, which Aronnax must cross to escape.

When it is time to leave, Aronnax tries to cross the salon as quietly as possible. Before Aronnax has escaped the room, Nemo gets up from the organ releasing a deep sigh; he sobs and says “God almighty! Enough is Enough!” Aronnax runs from the room still undetected.

When the men get into the boat they hear the crew talking urgently, and at first think their escape has been detected. However, they soon realize it is not the men the crew is upset with but “maelstrom, “ which they repeat over and over again. A maelstrom is a large and violent whirlpool. Aronnax then realizes they are off the Norwegian coast. Here there is a notorious and goat whirlpool, from which no ship has ever been able to escape. Besides ships, polar bears and whales are also often lost in this monstrous whirlpool. As the men realize what is happening, they try tightening the bolts that hold the dinghy to the Nautilus. As the vessel gets sucked into the whirlpool, the bolts crack and the dinghy is tossed into the maelstrom. Aronnax hits his head and loses consciousness.


CHAPTER 23: “Conclusion”

Summary

Aronnax does not know how, but the men escaped safely. They woke up in the hut of a fisherman on the Lofoten Islands. The entire journey lasted ten months and covered 20,000 leagues. Aronnax is now waiting in Norway for a ship to take him home to France. While he waits, he is revising his manuscript of his adventures under the sea.

He does not know if Captain Nemo survived. He hopes the captain did survive and that the hatred in his heart will subside. Aronnax ends his narrative by saying that he and Captain Nemo may now affirmatively answer the verse in Ecclesiastes which asks “hast thou walked in the search of the depth?”


NOTES AND ANALYSIS OF CHAPTERS 21 - 23

This final section of the novel includes the climax and outcome of the tale. Nemo engages in one last and bloody battle with an unknown ship. In Verne’s original version of the story, Nemo was revealed as Polish and the ship was Russian. However, his publisher was afraid he would offend the Russians (although this rivalry would have been appreciated among French readers). In the final version, the nationality of the warship remains unknown; however, it is apparent that the nationality is important to Nemo.

When the battle is concluded and the men are trying to escape, Aronnax hears Nemo’s lonesome cry that enough has been enough. Aronnax discovers, among the portraits of various respected figures, a portrait of a woman and children in Nemo’s room. This indicates that Nemo is acting to avenge the deaths of his wife and children. It remains unclear what caused their deaths. Nemo’s last words indicate that the whirlpool in which the Nautilus becomes trapped was not found accidentally. It is possible that he has launched the vessel into the whirlpool with the intention of destroying it. Perhaps Nemo realizes the extent of his science--he decided that its evil powers outweighed its good.


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