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

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Man versus Nature

This major theme of the story is encapsulated both in the conflict between Aronnax and Nemo as well as Nemo and himself. Aronnax, the “naturalist” must decide between his own love of science and his fellow man. Nemo, who has gained incredible power by defying nature, must reconcile his power and his humanity.

In this novel man vs. nature is a bit more complex than the typical man vs. nature theme, which usually entails men battling the forces of nature. In this case, which is typical of science-fiction, man is trying to overcome nature; man is trying to defy nature. Captain Nemo tries to create an alternate nature, which at the time of this novel was a foreign as living in outer space (which Nemo says, himself).

It seems that Nemo’s ultimate goal in creating an alternative nature, was to thwart the one into which he was born because it created circumstances too hurtful to bear. However, in the Nautilus, Nemo is still subject to the forces of nature. He must find a way to create an atmosphere like that found on land; he must battle natural creatures. It is apparent that nature has won when Nemo uses it to end his mission. Despite his attempt to create a new environment, he cannot escape his human nature, his capacity to feel pain. It is this pain that drives Nemo to kill; however, it is not enough.

Minor Themes


Captain Nemo repeatedly mentions that he is seeking revenge for injustices he incurred while on land. Interestingly, the reader must consider that while Nemo’s violence seems senseless and evil, he is not necessarily different from a nation state. For example, Nemo has declared himself sovereign; he has his own laws; he claims he has a wealth that rivals France; and he has his own military. At least in the cases of the Abraham Lincoln and the final warship, Nemo was attacked first. He is not entirely evil--he makes large donations to people in need of them and comes to the aid of those he believes worthy. The world in the 19th century was not quite the same as it is today. While the nature of warfare was certainly changing, as it always is, nations still engaged in battle over issues that would not be considered legitimate today, such as colonization.

Nemo, technically residing in a territory controlled by no one, having claimed land of his own, and fighting under his own flag is not entirely different from a recognized and respected nation that bludgeons its enemy to advance its own cause.


Liberty is another theme that pervades this novel. The world is seeking to liberate itself of the “creature,” the Nautilus. Nemo seeks liberty from society and from the land itself. Aronnax, Conseil and Land seek liberty from Nemo. Yet no one is truly free.

If the world became free from the terrors of the Nautilus it was only through the will of Nemo, who apparently committed suicide. However, much like any scientific progress, they are not free from the technology to produce another submarine capable of the same evil. Aronnax has survived. He knows the mechanical secrets of the ship and he is preparing to publish them

Nemo seeks refuge at the sea’s bottom; yet he is repeatedly outraged and haunted by mankind. He continues to battle humanity and thus causes himself great mental anguish. Moreover, he is plagued by his vengeful spirit which drives his entire existence. He is not in control of his life.


This story is told in the first person-limited point of view. This means it is told through the experience of the narrator, Pierre Aronnax. He is not privy to the ideas and feelings of the other characters. He can only tell us what he observes.

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