20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Study Guide

Jules Verne

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20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Part 2, Chapters 1–3 | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 1: The Indian Ocean

Dr. Aronnax begins this section with a number of observations. First, he reflects on Captain Nemo's utter devotion to his men and to his life in (and under) the sea. He is also suspicious of Captain Nemo's motives. Conseil believes Captain Nemo has removed himself from society because he is a "misunderstood genius, tired of the disappointments of the earth," but Captain Nemo's fierce objection to Dr. Aronnax's telescope use, his insistence that the men be locked up (and fed sleeping pills) for a night, and the crew member's violent injury all lead Dr. Aronnax to believe the captain may not be so innocent.

The submarine continues to make fast progress to the Indian Ocean. When it turns northwest toward the tip of the Indian subcontinent, Ned Land suggests trying to escape. Dr. Aronnax, however, disagrees vehemently, arguing the men should wait until the Nautilus is in European waters. During one of the viewing sessions, a group of fierce sharks passes by the submarine's windows, and later, as they enter the Bay of Bengal, they see dead bodies that have washed out from the Ganges.

Part 2, Chapter 2: A New Suggestion by Captain Nemo

On February 28, when the Nautilus is nearing the coast of Sri Lanka, Captain Nemo asks Dr. Aronnax if he'd like to go pearl diving. Dr. Aronnax agrees, and Captain Nemo provides some background on the pearl diving industry and pearl diving process. Dr. Aronnax is scandalized to learn it is a deeply exploitative business: The British own the fisheries in Sri Lanka (and Europeans own them in other oyster hotspots, such as Panama), but the divers, who risk life and limb for an absolute pittance, are all locals. Captain Nemo casually remarks they will be diving in shark territory, which leaves Dr. Aronnax terrified. He secretly hopes Conseil will balk at diving with sharks, thus giving him an out, but as always his loyal assistant happily agrees to accompany him. For his part, Ned Land is excited at the prospect of another exciting excursion and is completely unconcerned about sharks; as a professional harpooner, he says, he is "paid to laugh at them."

Part 2, Chapter 3: A Pearl Worth Ten Million

The men wake up very early the next morning and are rowed by Nautilus crew members to an oyster bed not far from Mannar Island, just off the coast of Sri Lanka. The crew help the men into their diving suits. Per Captain Nemo's instructions, they are only carrying daggers, not guns. The men follow Captain Nemo to a deep underwater grotto, within which is hiding an enormous oyster and its enormous, priceless pearl. They continue on, but in 10 minutes spy a native Indian diving for pearls alone. They stop and observe him—and then watch in horror as a shark smacks the man with its tail while he is underwater. Captain Nemo intervenes and is able to land multiple blows with his dagger, but he is unable to subdue the monster. Just as the shark is about to tear into the captain, Ned Land shoots his harpoon into the animal, wounding it fatally. The men immediately rush to the diver and bring him back to the surface. They are able to resuscitate him, and as he wakes up, Captain Nemo places a string of pearls in his hand. The group leaves him and returns to the dinghy, which is rowed back to the Nautilus.


At the beginning of Part 2, Dr. Aronnax explains "here begins the second part of this voyage," implying he's recounting the story from the future. His self-aware telegram to the reader is a subtle spoiler; for, if he's telling the story in the future, it's clear he has survived his ordeal. At any rate, his philosophizing at the beginning of the section also gives the story a dramatic boost. The inexplicable events of the past few chapters have been mysterious and a bit troubling, and Dr. Aronnax injects the story with fresh tension. Readers, like Dr. Aronnax, will be on high alert from this point forward to learn whether Captain Nemo is simply a misunderstood loner, as Conseil believes, or if he is involved in something nefarious, as Dr. Aronnax vaguely suspects. While the men's diving exploits and fascinating discoveries aboard the Nautilus are entertaining, they don't move the plot forward. Dr. Aronnax's quest to find out whether Captain Nemo harbors some dark secret, however, certainly does.

On the other hand, it is undeniable that Captain Nemo, for all of his mystery, has a virtuous side. He is deeply devoted to his men, as demonstrated by the burial he gave his crew member, and he is willing to risk his life to save the humble pearl diver from a shark attack. He is also sensitive to injustice. When he and Dr. Aronnax are discussing the pearl industry, he expertly leads the professor to the conclusion that it is a dangerous and horrifically exploitative business—at least for the natives who sacrifice their health to enrich pearl-harvesting company owners. There may be another reason for his bravery: he sees himself in the pearl diver. The very last lines of the section offer a tantalizing hint at Captain Nemo's past: "That Indian, doctor, is the inhabitant of an oppressed country. I am his compatriot, and shall remain so to my very last breath!"

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