20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Study Guide

Jules Verne

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20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Part 2, Chapters 10–12 | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 10: Underwater Coalmines

The next day the Nautilus passes through the ruins of Atlantis, captivating Conseil and Dr. Aronnax during the journey through the mythical city and its volcano. The submarine continues past the city, and after the windows close and the submarine stops moving, he dozes off to sleep. The next morning Dr. Aronnax heads up to the platform—and is encased in complete darkness. He is greeted by Captain Nemo, who explains they are actually inside an extinct volcano. He turns on the submarine's light, which reveals the tapering walls of the volcano stretching over 1,000 feet high into a small opening. Captain Nemo says he discovered an underwater passage from the sea to the lagoon inside the volcano base. It's a perfect port for the Nautilus: protected from the elements, unknown to mankind, and stocked with inexhaustible coal reserves, which the crew mines. (The coal is processed into sodium, which powers the ship's batteries and gives it electricity.) Dr. Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned Land spend the day exploring the harbor. They climb the interior wall a few hundred feet, and Ned Land brings back a few pounds of honey that he captures from a beehive in the upper wall.

Part 2, Chapter 11: The Sargasso Sea

The next day the Nautilus speeds through the Atlantic, further dashing Ned Land's hope of escape. It passes through the Sargasso Sea, a unique area of the northern Atlantic created by the Gulf Stream currents, which pull water in from North and Central America, Western Europe, and West Africa. Dr. Aronnax believes he is viewing "tree-trunks torn from the Andes or Rocky Mountains and carried down the Amazon or the Mississippi" as well as the rusted remains of downed ships. The isolation of the area spurs Dr. Aronnax to think more about escape. He reconsiders whether or not Captain Nemo truly does intend to keep him and his companions onboard forever or if he might be able to convince the captain his secret is safe so he will grant the men their freedom. Ultimately, he's not sure how to proceed.

Captain Nemo gives the order to descend to a depth of 16,000 meters, providing Dr. Aronnax with an exciting opportunity to view the animal and plant life that exists at the most extreme depths of the ocean. The Nautilus creaks and groans due to the tremendous pressure on it, but it holds firm. At the bottom of the ocean, Captain Nemo takes an artificially lit picture of the bare, bizarre landscape and gives it to Dr. Aronnax. The submarine's ascent back to the surface is much quicker—it takes only four minutes—and much more forceful.

Part 2, Chapter 12: Sperm Whales and Baleen Whales

On March 14 Ned Land and Conseil come to Dr. Aronnax's room. Ned asks him series of cryptic questions about the size of the Nautilus's crew. Humoring him, Dr. Aronnax says they can estimate the crew size by calculating the amount of oxygen onboard within a 24-hour time period, which is how often the submarine resurfaces to breathe. According to his calculations, there is enough air for 625 crew members, a wild overestimate but a figure that nonetheless gives the men pause. As always, Dr. Aronnax counsels patience, but Ned Land seems more dejected than ever. Later that morning while the men are on the platform, they spy a number of Antarctic whales. Ned Land wishes to hunt them, but Captain Nemo refuses permission, asserting that the submarine has no need for whale oil and thus it would simply be "killing for killing's sake." Dr. Aronnax can tell this has further enraged Ned. Soon, a large school of sperm whales come into view. Captain Nemo calls them "cruel and evil-doing animals," and he wishes to protect the gentler, nonpredatory Antarctic whales from being attacked. The Nautilus goes underwater and begins ramming the school of sperm whales to death. The bloody battle temporarily buoys Ned Land's spirits, but when it is over, he returns to his simmer, and Dr. Aronnax reminds himself to watch Ned closely.


The visit to Captain Nemo's secret harbor reveals crucial information about his operation. Like any other vessel, the Nautilus requires supplies and maintenance. The location of the harbor is hinted at by Dr. Aronnax's observation that the bees he and Ned Land discover are "common throughout the Canary Islands."(In the original manuscript, Verne titled the chapter that includes this scene "The Coalmines of Tenerife"—one of the Canary Islands. In the complete version of the manuscript, the chapter title is just "Underwater Coalmines.") Is there a deeper connection to the Canary Islands or the Spanish Empire, of which they are a part? Time will tell—perhaps.

Ned Land's increasing desperation and anger seem to foreshadow a dangerous encounter with Captain Nemo and/or his crew members. Ned's "former memories oppress him" like they would any prisoner. A caged animal such as the tempestuous Ned Land does not give up without a fight. Furthermore, Captain Nemo's restriction on whale hunting, the one activity in the world Ned Land cherishes above everything else, compounds his hatred of the situation—and the captain.

Captain Nemo doesn't prohibit whale hunting (of Antarctic whales, that is) to personally antagonize Ned Land. Rather, he seems to be a sincere conservationist. He does not believe in hunting for sport, and he only hunted the dugong in the Red Sea because his crew needed meat. "By destroying the Antarctic whale like the right whale, inoffensive and good creatures as they are, your fellows commit a damnable action, Master Land," Captain Nemo says. Dr. Aronnax does not seem to feel any different. When he spots the whales from the platform, he remarks they are "under outrageous pressure from hunting." Combined with his concern for oppressed people and admiration for freedom fighters, Captain Nemo's opposition to sport hunting further underscores his empathy and identification with justice-related causes.

Captain Nemo's organ playing is mentioned again in Chapter 11. Earlier, he was deep in musical ecstasy; here, he's producing "melancholy sounds"; it seems that the organ magnifies Captain Nemo's loneliness and the abiding sadness that he carries within himself. He has played it when faced with a dilemma, when he was in mourning, and after he had sunk a ship and was perhaps penitent.

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