20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Study Guide

Jules Verne

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20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Part 1, Chapters 13–15 | Summary



Part 1, Chapter 13: A Few Figures

Captain Nemo takes Dr. Aronnax to the drawing room and fills him in on even more specifics about the submarine's operation. The submarine is remarkably engineered: its weight, design, and body composition were all painstakingly devised to maximize speed and enable it to prowl the deepest reaches of the oceans. Dr. Aronnax is wide-eyed as Captain Nemo explains the various technological advances he has incorporated into the submarine, including a steel-plated double hull, auxiliary tanks that fill with water when diving (and release when climbing to the surface), an electricity-powered reflector that illuminates the water outside the ship, and more.

It was the reflector that generated the phosphorescent light that had caught the attention of the Abraham Lincoln's crew. Thinking more about the submarine's encounters, Dr. Aronnax asks Captain Nemo if the submarine's collisions with the Cunard ship and the Abraham Lincoln were accidental. Captain Nemo says the former was an accident but the latter was not, as "I was being attacked and I had to defend myself!" Captain Nemo then offers some information about himself. He studied in London, Paris, and New York. The ship was designed and constructed by him; he had sent all of the submarine's parts to a deserted island, where he assembled his creation. The cost was enormous, but he is "infinitely" wealthy.

Part 1, Chapter 14: The Black River

Captain Nemo invites Dr. Aronnax to the submarine's platform to determine their location. The submarine ascends for a moment, and then they climb through the hatch. From his perch, Dr. Aronnax surveys the machine. He notices the plates of the body overlap slightly "like the scales which cover the bodies of great land reptiles," explaining how so many sailors could have mistaken it for something from the natural world. Using his sextant and chronograph, Captain Nemo determines they are 300 miles off the coast of Japan. Dr. Aronnax returns to the sitting room to mull over all he has heard and observed. Soon he is joined by Conseil and Ned Land. As they sit talking, the lights on the ship go out, plunging them into darkness. Panels on the ship retract to reveal windows, and through them, the electrically illuminated sea. The men gape at the maritime panorama of fish and creatures swimming freely before their eyes.

Part 1, Chapter 15: A Written Invitation

Captain Nemo isn't seen over the course of the next week, leaving the men to wonder if their circumstances have changed or if something bad has happened. Dr. Aronnax then receives a letter from Captain Nemo asking if the men would like to accompany him on a hunting excursion through the forests of Crespo Island the next morning. They accept. The next morning Dr. Aronnax eats breakfast with Captain Nemo, who elaborates on the day's excursion. He informs Dr. Aronnax the men will be "hunting" fish underwater with the protection of specially designed suits and artificial air; as usual, Dr. Aronnax is completely slack-jawed as Captain Nemo explains the technology behind the gear. Captain Nemo escorts him, Conseil, and Ned Land to a compartment near the submarine's engine room at the back of the vessel.


Captain Nemo's descriptions of the ship's operations in this section are incredibly detailed and consequently lend this fictional world an air of realism. In fact, many of the inventions and processes he describes are based on technologies that existed at the time of the book's writing. For example, the underwater breathing machine the men will use to go "hunting" is based on a real invention, the Rouquayrol-Denayrouze apparatus, one of the world's first diving equipment prototypes. By basing the technology in the story on existing technologies, Verne reduces the cognitive dissonance that is typically required in science fiction fantasy tales, an approach that hooks the reader even more strongly.

Despite Dr. Aronnax's growing friendship with and admiration for Captain Nemo, this section reinforces the professor's subordinate status on the ship. Captain Nemo feels entitled to cut off communication without warning and supply the men with updates and notices only as he sees fit. He is, and will always be, the commander of this operation. The lack of freedom acts as an insurmountable impediment to any real friendship between Dr. Aronnax and Captain Nemo.

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