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One of the first science fiction books ever written, ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ tells the story of three guests on board the Nautilus, a submarine whose capabilities match the torment of its captain.

Summary

Written by Jules Verne in 1870, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a book that tells us the story of three accidental visitors to an underwater world hosted by the mysterious Captain Nemo. From their arrival on board the Nautilus, the scholarly Professor Aronnax, loyal Conseil, and adventurous Ned Land are torn between exploring the new wonders of their surroundings and finding a way to escape.They originally encounter the Nautilus in the Pacific Ocean as part of an expedition to find out what species of undiscovered whale has been damaging world shipping. However, far from encountering a whale that has wrecked world shipping, they soon find themselves on the iron plating of a new kind of vessel, a submarine. From there, the three find themselves below decks, with Arronax an honored guest of the vessel’s commander, Captain Nemo.As the book progresses, the men hunt underwater, fight sharks, encounter Atlantis, and fight off giant squid.

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However, after sinking a warship belonging to a country that caused the death of his family, Nemo loses control on his sanity. He realizes that despite his best efforts to the contrary, he is just as uncivilized as those who oppressed him in the past. Like those oppressors, he relied on advanced technology to gain the upper hand.

In short, Nemo finds out that he’s as cruel as his opponents, causing him to go over a psychological cliff. Guiding the submarine into a whirlpool off the coast, the vessel and all aboard seem destined for doom until Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned Land sneak into a boat and escape the Nautilus.

Primary Characters

The protagonist of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is Professor Aronnax. The story starts with him returning from archaeological digs in Nebraska, as per his role as a specialist at a prominent Paris Museum. It is by accident that he is invited on the expedition to hunt the Nautilus. However, once on board, he is constantly interested in the discoveries that happen every day as a result of his work. It is through his perspective that the book is told.

Conseil is Aronnax’s servant. Fiercely loyal to Aronnax, he jumps in the water to the rescue of Aronnax after he falls off the steamer searching for the Nautilus. On the other hand, Ned Land has one goal in mind throughout the book: escape. That said, he does not shy away from the opportunity for unique adventure, such as underwater shark hunting, nor does he deprive the Nautilus of his skills as a whaler and as a warrior against the animal threats to the Nautilus.The most mysterious character in the book is the captain of the Nautilus, Captain Nemo. Even his name is mysterious, meaning ‘nobody’ in Latin.

Fantastically wealthy, educated beyond even the degrees of Professor Aronnax, and equipped with an engineer’s mind, it is through Nemo’s drive that the Nautilus is possible. However, he carries a dark secret. He lost his family when his country was occupied by an oppressive state, and has turned his life into a mission to get revenge. However, when he finally gains that revenge, he enters a spiral of misery equaled only by the maelstrom that threatens to engulf the Nautilus.

Quotations From the Book

Verne finds a unique balance in the book, showing Nemo’s disgust with modern advancements when those advancements ignore the basic equality of all humans, while still providing enough witty material to keep the reader engaged.

This shows the paradox of Verne’s own thoughts regarding the new scientific advances of his time. On one hand, he cannot help but be very curious about every discovery, whether it’s a new culture in Africa or a new invention like an electric motor. On the other hand, he knows that there are ethical questions about the advancement of new technology and Western political supremacy.’We may brave human laws, but we cannot resist natural ones.’ – Nemo feels that many Western powers ignore the basic natural laws of humanity. Also, it shows that despite the rapid advances in technology, nature always wins.

‘There’s an island over there. On that island there are trees. Under those trees there are animals carrying around chops and roast beefs, and I wouldn’t mind a bit, sinking my teeth into a little good meat.

‘ – Ned Land’s constant plots to escape are only paused by his desire for a meal that doesn’t feature seafood. In this, we see Verne’s wit, as well as a bit of undisclosed foreshadowing. Ned won’t be alone in wanting to eat the animals in question.

Lesson Summary

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was written by Jules Verne in 1870, about the adventures of Professor Aronnax, his servant Conseil, and Ned Land on board the Nautilus.

The Nautilus, piloted by the mysterious Captain Nemo, was years ahead of contemporary technology on land. However, Nemo was tortured by the life he had stolen from him on land, and ultimately steered the Nautilus on a course to ruin that led to a quick escape by Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned Land.

Learning Outcomes

This lesson on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea should have helped you get ready to:

  • Sum up Twenty Leagues Under the Sea
  • Recognize the primary characters of the book
  • Analyze quotations from the book

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