20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Study Guide

Jules Verne

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20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Part 1, Chapters 7–9 | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 7: An Unknown Species of Whale

Dr. Aronnax plunges into the water, but he is a strong swimmer so he resurfaces without distress. When he reaches the surface, however, his wet clothes slowly drag him back under the water. Just as he begins to drown, he is pulled back to the surface by Conseil, who dives in after Dr. Aronnax is thrown from the frigate. He bears bad news: The ship's rudder was broken during its encounter with the monster, so even if a crew member could spot the men in the water, the ship can't turn around to retrieve them. They decide their best (and only) chance is to find one of the Abraham Lincoln's lifeboats, which may or may not be floating in the area. To reserve their energy, they trade off as one man floats on his back for 10 minutes while the other man drags them both forward.

Two hours later Dr. Aronnax becomes too exhausted to continue. After he notices Conseil floundering as well, he commands his servant to leave him. "Abandon monsieur? Never! I intend to drown before he does," Conseil responds defiantly. They spot their frigate in the distance and cry out one last time in desperation. Incredibly, they hear a faint noise in response—a human voice. With renewed optimism and a display of Herculean strength, Conseil pulls himself and Dr. Aronnax toward the voice, which grows increasingly louder. Dr. Aronnax passes out; when he wakes up, he finds himself with Conseil and Ned Land atop what appears to be the creature—except the beast is made of steel. Incredulous, it dawns on Dr. Aronnax that they are sitting on a submarine. Dr. Aronnax gazes intensely at the boat, trying in vain to determine how it works. The next morning the submarine starts to descend, and in a panic, Ned Land stomps furiously on the hull, which successfully halts the dive. Then, eight men emerge on the deck and bring the visitors down into the submarine.

Part 1, Chapter 8: Mobilis in Mobile

The three men are rushed into a dark space, which is then locked. Ned Land becomes angry, but Dr. Aronnax is able to calm him down temporarily by suggesting the men explore their new environment. After groping their way around in the dark, they realize they are in a 10×20-foot room of some sort. As Ned grows irritable again, a blinding light comes on. Two men enter the room. One of them is short and, in Dr. Aronnax's view, seems to have the demeanor and look of someone from Provence; the other is tall and imposing, "certainly the most admirable specimen [Dr. Aronnax] had ever met." They don't speak a word to their captives, but the two men speak to each other in a language neither Dr. Aronnax, Ned, nor Conseil can understand. The prisoners try to convey their story to the men in multiple languages, but none of them seem to register. Eventually, the men close the door and leave, enraging Ned yet again. As Ned is working himself into a lather, a steward enters with food. It is a strangely sophisticated meal, considering the circumstances, and each utensil is inscribed with the motto Mobilis In Mobile ("mobile in the mobile element") and the letter N. After eating, the men fall immediately to sleep.

Part 1, Chapter 9: Ned Land's Fits of Anger

Dr. Aronnax wakes up first. He has difficulty breathing, which he speculates is from the depletion of oxygen in the submarine cavity. Before long, however, he is greeted by the rich sea air; the submarine must have "come up to the surface to breathe, exactly as whales do." Ned Land and Conseil wake up, and yet again, Ned becomes angry. Dr. Aronnax and Conseil attempt to calm him down, but his rage is nearly uncontrollable. After a few hours Ned's fury begins to unnerve Dr. Aronnax and Conseil. When the steward returns, Ned Land attacks him. As Conseil is prying him off, a voice speaking in French commands Ned to calm himself and implores "the professor" to listen.

Analysis

The discovery that "the monster" is actually a submarine is nearly as astonishing to Dr. Aronnax as it is to the reader. Thus far, the narrative—and the narrator—have focused obsessively on the idea that some sort of menacing creature has been terrorizing the world's ships. Until this point the story seemed to be a direct precursor to contemporary thrillers, such as Jaws. The surprise is both playful and strategic. It keeps readers on their toes in the way that expertly crafted thrillers do.

In addition to the narrative's deep dive (literally and figuratively), this section expands the reader's understanding of the characters' personalities—as placing characters in stressful, nearly fatal circumstances often does. In this case, each character responds differently to their loss of freedom. Conseil is a remarkably faithful servant and companion and a man of remarkable composure. Ned Land, however, is the exact opposite: short-tempered, suspicious, and aggressive. Dr. Aronnax is physically dependent but thoughtful and clever. Some Verne scholars have pointed out that each man's traits correspond with popular perceptions of their social status. Thus, the servant Conseil is selfless, and the brawny, veteran sailor Ned Land embodies raw masculinity and emotion.

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