20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Study Guide

Jules Verne

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20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Part 2, Chapters 13–15 | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 13: The Ice-Cap

The Nautilus continues south, and by March 16 it has reached the South Shetland Islands in the Antarctic Circle. Dr. Aronnax is captivated by the landscape of ice and islands and by Captain Nemo's expert navigation around (and occasionally, through) them. Eventually, the Nautilus's progress is halted by an enormous wall of ice extending hundreds of meters below the waterline—an ice cap. Dr. Aronnax believes they can go no farther, but Captain Nemo asks, rhetorically, why the Nautilus can't simply go underneath the ice cap. There will be no opportunities to come up for air until they cross the cap, however, so there is a risk they will run out of air. Dr. Aronnax is mesmerized by the journey, so he enthusiastically agrees to accept the risk. Ned Land, however, is not convinced they can make it, and the plan angers him further. That afternoon the Nautilus dives under the South Pole. Throughout the next day it continuously taps the bottom of the cap to determine the thickness of the ice above it, but by evening it is still 400 to 500 meters thick. Dr. Aronnax sleeps poorly that night; by 3 a.m., however, the ice sheet has reduced to 50 meters. At 6:00 the Nautilus surfaces on the other end of the ice cap.

Part 2, Chapter 14: The South Pole

Dr. Aronnax runs up to the platform to observe their position and determine whether or not they are actually at the South Pole, but Captain Nemo tells him it can't be determined until they take the proper measurements—at noon, with the sun visible—on one of the nearby landmasses. They travel slowly to an island 10 miles away and then launch the dinghy for the last stretch. When they land, Conseil gets up to leave the boat, but Dr. Aronnax pulls him back to give Captain Nemo the honor of being "the first man to leave footprints on this Polar Ground." Conseil and Captain Nemo walk around the island, surveying its plant and animal life. The sun remains hidden behind the mist, so the men return to the Nautilus. The submarine travels 10 miles along the coast, and the next morning Conseil and Captain Nemo explore a different section of the ice landscape. They encounter volcanic rocks and animals such as penguins, seals, and walruses. Yet again the sun doesn't show itself, so they return, somewhat unsatisfied, to the submarine.

The next day, March 21, is the equinox, meaning it is the last day the sun will be in the sky for six months—and their last opportunity to measure their position. This time Captain Nemo and two crewmen accompany Dr. Aronnax and Conseil, and the group makes its way up a 400- or 500-foot peak on the land. As they arrive at the top, the sun reveals itself, and Captain Nemo takes his measurements. Satisfied, he gives a brief history of all of the men who have explored the South Pole, ending with his own achievement. To mark the occasion, he unrolls a black flag with a gold-colored N.

Part 2, Chapter 15: Accident or Incident?

The Nautilus makes its way back underneath the ice cap. Before it descends, Dr. Aronnax notices the multiplying ice floes and increase in surface ice in the area, a result of the sun's retreat. At 3 a.m. Dr. Aronnax is awoken by a violent shock. Captain Nemo confirms the Nautilus was swiped by an iceberg that turned upside down, and the collision has trapped the submarine underneath an ice field. They are able to thread their way around the iceberg and underneath the ice field, but that evening Dr. Aronnax wakes when the submarine hits a block of ice. The submarine begins moving backwards quickly. Deeply nervous, Dr. Aronnax asks Conseil and Ned Land to stay with him in the salon until the situation is clear. A few hours later they feel yet another shock, indicating that the back of the submarine has hit something. Captain Nemo immediately enters the salon and confirms the Nautilus is trapped in the ice—300 meters under the water.


The exploration of Antarctica is the first expedition in the story (not underwater) that is conjured wholly from Verne's mind. Whereas there had long been travel records about every other destination the Nautilus visits—Papua New Guinea, the Indian Ocean, the Sargasso Sea, etc.—the South Pole was first reached in 1911, many decades after 20,000 Leagues under the Sea was published. As Captain Nemo points out, since the beginning of the 1600s, several explorers had reached the area around the South Pole, but none of them had actually explored it by foot.

At the beginning of their excursion, the uniqueness of the landscape is beguiling to the men. Dr. Aronnax is taken by the Spartan, haunting landscapes of ice and water and volcanic rock, and the plump, well-adapted mammals that have made the strange place their home. Quickly, however, the area takes on a sinister feel; eventually, the ice cap transforms into a prison. For Dr. Aronnax, Ned Land, and Conseil, the Nautilus is now a prison within a prison, which can't be negotiated with or overpowered.

Perhaps pride caused their predicament. They stubbornly refused to leave the South Pole despite the fact that the equinox was nearing, and they had already pressed their luck by venturing underneath the unexplored ice cap in the first place. Whatever the cause, the bond between Dr. Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned Land shows through in this section. After the submarine starts moving quickly in reverse, Dr. Aronnax's anxiety worsens, and he asks the men not to return to their rooms just yet: "'Please remain, my friends,' I said, retaining them, 'let's stay together until we have got out of this cul-de-sac.'" They agree without fuss. After the second shock, when Dr. Aronnax's anxiety is threatening to spiral, his "companions had come close," and he takes Conseil's hand.

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