20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Study Guide

Jules Verne

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20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Part 2, Chapters 4–6 | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 4: The Red Sea

Dr. Aronnax is confused when he realizes the Nautilus has set its course toward the Gulf of Oman, which leads to the Persian Gulf, an enclosed body of water. When the Nautilus gets to the Gulf of Oman, it turns to trace the southern coastline of Arabia and then heads for the Red Sea, surprising Dr. Aronnax again since the Red Sea, like the Persian Gulf, is "a cul-de-sac." As always, however, the underwater animal, plant, and geographical delights of the sea are more than enough to take his mind off the mystery. During a conversation with Captain Nemo on the platform, all becomes clear. Some time ago, Captain Nemo noticed the same exact species of fish were present in both the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, leading him to speculate there may be an underwater link between the two bodies of water. To test this hypothesis, he put copper rings on a large group of fish he caught in the Red Sea; several months later, he found the same group of fish off the coast of Syria. Emboldened by his experiment, he explored the coast of Suez and discovered a narrow tunnel that connects to the Mediterranean, located 50 meters under the isthmus. The Nautilus will pass through this tunnel.

Part 2, Chapter 5: Arabian Tunnel

Later that day, when Dr. Aronnax is alone with Conseil and Ned Land, he tells them about the Nautilus's impending arrival to the Mediterranean. Ned is amazed and says he could never imagine such a link, but Conseil responds he probably couldn't have imagined a submarine like the Nautilus, either. The next day, gazing out at the Red Sea from the platform, the men spy a dugong—a rare, strange-looking fish that bears a resemblance to a mermaid. Ned Land naturally wants to hunt it, and Captain Nemo agrees to send him, Conseil, and Dr. Aronnax out with a hunting party. After a fierce battle, Ned harpoons the creature, and it is dragged back to the submarine to be turned into many delicious meals. The following day Dr. Aronnax joins the captain in the pilot's compartment for the trip through the tunnel. The journey takes less than 20 minutes, but following the current through such a narrow passage requires expert maneuvering, and Dr. Aronnax's heart beats wildly during the trip.

Part 2, Chapter 6: The Greek Islands

The next morning Dr. Aronnax rushes up to the platform to take in the new surroundings. When he arrives, Conseil and Ned Land are already there. Ned doesn't believe they're actually in the Mediterranean, but when Dr. Aronnax points out the jetties of Port Said, Ned acknowledges their position. Now that they are back in more familiar territory, Ned asks the men to think about how they could escape. Dr. Aronnax is torn: "I will admit that this discussion with the Canadian bothered me. I did not wish to fetter the freedom of my companions in any way, but nevertheless felt no desire to leave Captain Nemo."

Ned Land says he has enjoyed the voyage, but he desperately wants it to be over. Dr. Aronnax tries to stall him using various arguments, but the professor's reasoning is shaky. Conceding, Dr. Aronnax agrees that the group can plan an escape—but it can only be launched at a truly opportune time because the men will have only one chance. "Captain Nemo will not forgive us," he says. Ned agrees, so long as it's understood that a "favorable occasion" could present itself at any time: in two years or two days. In Ned Land's view, the ideal time to escape would be when the Nautilus is close to a European shore on a dark night. Dr. Aronnax confesses he believes Captain Nemo is too smart to bring the submarine close to a European coast or do anything that could present an escape opportunity for the men, but he agrees wholeheartedly to the pact.

The next day while Dr. Aronnax is studying in the salon, he looks out the window and sees a diver who appears to be struggling. Captain Nemo puts his face close to the glass and signals to the man, who is now just outside the window. The diver is a man named Nicolas, "from Cape Matapan, nicknamed the 'Pesce.'" Captain Nemo says there is nothing to be alarmed about. He removes 1,000 kilograms worth of gold from a safe in the salon in front of Dr. Aronnax. Four crew members haul the gold to the top of the submarine out of Dr. Aronnax's sight. Dr. Aronnax then hears the dinghy being launched. After these strange events, however, Captain Nemo doesn't tell Dr. Aronnax anything. Dr. Aronnax goes to sleep completely puzzled. The next day, the Nautilus travels through the boiling waters off the coast of Santorini, which are heated by undersea volcanoes. Sweating and panting profusely, Dr. Aronnax begs the captain to change course, which he does.


The story returns to the predicament of the three men trapped aboard the Nautilus. The conversation between Captain Nemo and Dr. Aronnax about the unknown underwater passage between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean reminds the reader about the situation and foreshadows future conflict. When Dr. Aronnax tentatively asks Captain Nemo to explain how he discovered the passage, Captain Nemo is happy to oblige, as "there can be no secrets between people who are never to part." Captain Nemo feels an air of freedom in his conversation with Dr. Aronnax precisely because of Dr. Aronnax's incarceration. Captain Nemo's statement and his behavior—keeping the Nautilus far away from the Greek coast and steering it through boiling-hot waters—seem to emphasize his unwillingness to release his prisoner-guests. At the same time, however, the prisoners are still committed to their freedom, swearing in secrecy to attempt an escape at some point. However things turn out, there will likely be peril involved. In an ominous passage, Dr. Aronnax describes the conversation about escaping as one "which was later to have such grave consequences."

The section also underscores, again, how the wonders of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea operate (mostly) within the constraints of the natural world. An underwater, continent-linking passage large enough for submarines to pass through doesn't exist, but it's certainly not a huge conceptual stretch. Likewise, the technologies that power the Nautilus weren't unknown at Verne's time but only in their infancy. The technologies used in the story are exaggerated versions, but they weren't created from scratch. Though the book doesn't fit the common understanding of "sci-fi" (alternative universes, humanlike robots, flying saucers, and so on), it does fit the proper definition of the genre, which deals with the impact of actual science—just as much as that of imagined science—on society and individuals. Science fiction is also simply fiction that has science as one of its central components. In fact, the exciting scene with the dugong may even be a playful or ironic tease by Verne. It turns out there's no mermaid in the Red Sea but only a creature that, thanks to modern science, is on the verge of extinction.

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