20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Study Guide

Jules Verne

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20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Part 1, Chapters 19–21 | Summary



Part 1, Chapter 19: Vanikoro

As the Nautilus travels through more frequented sailing areas in the South Pacific, it comes across more and more shipwrecks. By the middle of December, the submarine has traveled over 8,100 miles since picking up the three men from the Abraham Lincoln. Just after Christmas the Nautilus reaches the island of Vanikoro, part of the Solomon Islands. Dr. Aronnax is intrigued because the island's waters are rumored to be the final resting place of two French ships sent by Louis XVI in 1785 to circumnavigate the globe. Somewhat coyly, Captain Nemo asks Dr. Aronnax to recount the story of the ships, which the professor does with enthusiasm. Multiple expeditions from multiple countries had set out to find the ships and the sailors. While one of these expeditions was able to confirm the presence of the ships in the area through interactions with the island's natives, it couldn't locate the two wrecks nor the ship built by the surviving sailors, who were attempting to return to France. Captain Nemo, however, is able to identify the site of this third ship: the western coast of the Solomons. As proof, he proudly presents to Dr. Aronnax a corroded tin box and stained yellow papers bearing Louis XVI's notes, which the captain had recovered from a shipwreck at that location.

Part 1, Chapter 20: Torres Strait

The Nautilus heads west toward the Indian Ocean. To reach this area, however, it has to thread through the Torres Strait, the notoriously hazard-infested channel between the coast of New Guinea and the tip of Australia. The area is even more dangerous because of the fearsome reputation of the Andamanese, the New Guinean natives. For this part of the journey, Captain Nemo pilots the submarine in flotation mode, steering it painstakingly between the coral and rocks. Just outside of Gueboroar Island, the submarine runs aground. Unworried, Captain Nemo insists the full moon in four days will bring a sufficiently high tide to dislodge the vessel. The lure of fresh meat and dry land just two miles away proves irresistible to the men, especially Ned Land. After securing the captain's permission, they travel to the island on the submarine's dinghy the next morning.

Part 1, Chapter 21: A Few Days on Land

Ned Land is in heaven on the island, and Conseil and Dr. Aronnax seem quite pleased to be there as well. During their exploration they come across a variety of tropical delights: breadfruit, coconuts, bananas, and more, but no meat. They carry the booty back to the ship and return the next morning. This time they find (and kill) birds, kangaroo, and even a boar. That evening they gather on the beach and cook a feast with the meat, vegetables, and fruit they had gathered on the island. As the men are finishing up their meal, stones begin falling in their direction.


The South Pacific is portrayed as a world of delights and danger. To Europeans it is a place of exotic fruits, crystal-clear water, sun and sand, and magnificently colored reefs. It is also a place of tropical diseases, perilously rocky coasts, and dangerous, cannibalistic "savages." As Dr. Aronnax and Captain Nemo discuss the story of the two French ships commissioned by Louis XVI, at least a half dozen other famous sailors are brought up, including Captain James Cook, the British explorer who was killed in Hawaii after hatching a plot to seize its chief. The fear of native islanders, whom Dr. Aronnax repeatedly refers to as "savages," asserts itself throughout this section. After momentarily contemplating (not very seriously) the possibility of escaping Captain Nemo's clutches via New Guinea, Dr. Aronnax rules against it, concluding "it was better to be a prisoner on board the Nautilus than to fall into the hands of the Papuan natives." These opinions about the natives were probably not held by Dr. Aronnax alone, but by his creator, too. The book was written during the colonial era, and it's likely that Verne, like most Europeans, believed France and Western Europe (and perhaps the United States) to be beacons of civilization in a brutal, uncivilized world.

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