20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Study Guide

Jules Verne

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Course Hero, "20,000 Leagues under the Sea Study Guide," June 29, 2017, accessed July 18, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/20000-Leagues-under-the-Sea/.

20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Part 1, Chapters 4–6 | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 4: Ned Land

Captain Farragut has assembled an impressive crew of sailors and officers. Many of them are enticed by the $2,000 in reward money Farragut offers to the first man who spots the creature; as a result, the crew members readily embrace their daily watch duties, typically the least desirable sailing task. If a sighting is made, the Abraham Lincoln is well-equipped to do battle: The frigate "[possesses] all known weapons," including a state-of-the art cannon that can hit targets 16 kilometers away. For all of the frigate's bells and whistles, however, its most powerful weapon is an expert Canadian harpooner named Ned Land. Around 40 years old, Ned Land has sailed all over the globe, including the Arctic, as a whale-hunter. Stories of his exploits captivate Dr. Aronnax, who quickly takes a liking to him, and the two discuss the prospects of their mission at length. Unlike Captain Farragut, who believes in the monster's existence wholeheartedly, Ned Land is skeptical. Though still dubious that the Abraham Lincoln will come across a completely unknown creature, Dr. Aronnax does believe the creature is some sort of known sea animal. The water pressure on an animal big enough to live deep down in the ocean and strong enough to pierce a metal frigate like the Cunard ship would be tremendous; therefore, the sea creature would necessarily have incredible strength.

Part 1, Chapter 5: In Search of Adventure

The ship steams its way through the Atlantic, headed toward Cape Horn, the southernmost point of the South American continent. In their excitement—and overzealousness—the crew members make several false identifications. Close to the Falkland Islands, Ned Land demonstrates his masterful skill by killing two whales in a single motion with his harpoon. On July 7 the Abraham Lincoln passes Cape Horn and enters the Pacific. The ship zigs and zags across the great ocean over the next few months, but there is no sign of her quarry. Inevitably, the crew's enthusiasm begins to slacken, and by the beginning of November, they are so disillusioned they ask Captain Farragut to return home. He asks for three more days, agreeing to head back if they don't spot the creature by November 5. On that very evening, Dr. Aronnax and Conseil are chatting on the rail when they hear Ned Land cry out: "Ahoy! The thing itself, to leeward on the weather beam!"

Part 1, Chapter 6: Full Steam Ahead

After Ned Land's proclamation, the entire crew rushes onto the deck and sees, off in the distance, a huge, elliptical mass just underneath the surface of the water radiating phosphorescent light. As the dumbstruck crew looks on, the creature circles the frigate. At midnight the creature's glow turns off, but it releases an enormously loud blast of water, which convinces Ned Land that they are dealing with a whale.

The next morning the crew gets a much clearer look at the underwater beast. Dr. Aronnax observes that its "long black body" is about 250 feet long, actually a little shorter than had been reported in previous encounters. He concludes that the creature is indeed a cetacean, but he can't decide which family it belongs to—whale, cachalot, or dolphin. Captain Farragut gives the order to chase down the creature, but the ship can't catch up with it despite operating its engines at a dangerously high level. A cannon shot hits the creature but seems to bounce right off it. The chase continues for another few hours. Finally, at nearly 11 p.m., the ship is able to slowly amble up to the creature, now illuminated. Ned Land takes his best harpoon shot, but it doesn't penetrate, instead making a sound like it has "come into contact with a hard substance." The creature's light goes out, and it shoots its spray violently toward the ship, knocking the crew around—and Dr. Aronnax overboard.

Analysis

The discussion between Ned Land and Dr. Aronnax over whether or not the creature exists is notable for its exploration of scientific inquiry. Ned Land is a skeptic and dismisses the public's panicked reactions to reports of an underwater creature. "It's one thing for ordinary folk to choose to believe in incredible comets crossing space or prehistoric monsters living inside the Earth; but neither the astronomer nor the geologist accept such fantasies," he reasons. Furthermore, he's hunted "hundreds" of whales, but "however strong and well-armed and they were, not one of their tails or tusks could have pierced the side of a metal steamer." He has plenty of experience in the natural world, and thus doesn't believe there's something new and sinister lurking "out there."

Dr. Aronnax is a man of science, and one certainly not given to hysterics, but he is convinced that something in the animal kingdom struck the Cunard ship. To make his case, he responds with various calculations of the enormous levels of pressure any deep-diving animal strong enough to wound the ship would be subject to. He concludes that an animal that can dive to a depth of 32,000 feet would have to have a skeleton that can withstand over 17 million kilograms of pressure. His speculations about the size and strength of the animal come from his inductive reasoning. Curiously—and not a little amusingly, at least for the reader—he is relying on the scientific process to analyze the fantastical. In the end, however, Ned Land is unconvinced. His personal observations and distrust of the sensational prevent him from believing in the beast.

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