20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Study Guide

Jules Verne

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20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Part 2, Chapters 7–9 | Summary

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Summary

Part 2, Chapter 7: The Mediterranean in Forty-Eight Hours

Much to Ned Land's disappointment, the Nautilus speeds through the Mediterranean too quickly to make escape possible. Dr. Aronnax thinks this is because Captain Nemo only feels free in the ocean: "It was clear to me that the Mediterranean displeased Captain Nemo, pressed in as it was amongst the lands he wished to flee ... Here he no longer had that freedom of movement, that maneuverability which the other oceans gave him." As the submarine nears the Strait of Gibraltar, where the continents of Africa and Europe almost meet, he notices that the number of shipwrecks increases substantially, leading him to philosophize about all of the lost lives and cargo.

Part 2, Chapter 8: Vigo Bay

Soon after the Nautilus enters the rough waters of the Atlantic, Ned Land comes to Dr. Aronnax's room. He seems glum, so Dr. Aronnax tries to reassure him by noting that the Nautilus has turned north, up the coast of Portugal, which means they may soon be within striking distance of Britain or France. After a few moments of silence, Ned tells Dr. Aronnax he has made a plan to escape that night at 9:00. He has rigged the dinghy for sail and packed away supplies. Dr. Aronnax objects that the sea is too rough, but Ned dismisses him, saying it is worth the risk, and besides, he's an expert sailor. Dr. Aronnax grudgingly accepts. He is wracked with nervousness and guilt over the next few hours. He hopes to avoid Captain Nemo because he is not sure he can face him, but he rationalizes his decision as an escape from involuntary captivity. After dinner he goes to the salon one final time, and as he walks around the room, he notices the door to Captain Nemo's room is open. He peers in and notices portraits on the wall of great liberators from history: Kosciusko, O'Connell, Lincoln, John Brown, and others. He's taken by the display and wonders about its significance.

He heads to his room to get dressed in sea-going clothes and then returns to the salon to wait for Ned Land's signal—only to be greeted by Captain Nemo. Captain Nemo doesn't express any knowledge of the plot, but he tells a long story about the history of Spain, leaving Dr. Aronnax to wonder if he is alluding to the men's plans. In the climax of the story, a French convoy traveling to Spain in 1702 chose to destroy its ships in Vigo Bay, off the coast of northwest Spain, rather than surrender the wealth it carried to the British ships that intercepted it. On Captain Nemo's direction, Dr. Aronnax gazes through the salon windows and sees Nautilus crew members salvaging the remains of the treasure left by the convoy at the bottom of the bay. Dr. Aronnax laments that the riches could have benefited "thousands of wretches" but now "will never be of any use." Captain Nemo is offended by the implication that he is not making proper use of the booty. Dr. Aronnax then realizes that the gold bars handed off to "Pesce" must have come from wrecks like this one and that Captain Nemo isn't simply a treasure hoarder but has nobler intentions for the wealth.

Part 2, Chapter 9: A Vanished Continent

The next morning Ned Land comes to Dr. Aronnax's room to grieve over their scuttled opportunity. He peps himself up to make another attempt soon, but Dr. Aronnax is doubtful. When Ned leaves, Dr. Aronnax learns the Nautilus is heading farther out into the Atlantic. At 11 p.m. Captain Nemo stops by Dr. Aronnax's room and asks if he'd like to go on a "curious excursion." Dr. Aronnax agrees, and the men get into their diving suits. After a few hours of walking on the seafloor in the dark, they arrive at the foot of an 800-foot mountain. After a taxing hike up to the top, Dr. Aronnax realizes it's actually a volcano, and at the bottom of it lies the ruins of a great city—Atlantis. They spend an hour marveling at the mythical city and then return to the Nautilus.

Analysis

This section shows how attached Dr. Aronnax has become to Captain Nemo. When he finally agrees to join Ned Land's escape plot, he worries about being caught and "taken to an angry Captain Nemo or, worse, one saddened by my abandonment." The fact that Dr. Aronnax is more concerned about facing a disappointed captain than an angry captain reveals his feeling of obligation, or at least gratitude, toward the man who has fed him, housed him, and opened his eyes to parts of the world he couldn't even dream of.

Ned Land's eagerness to leave the Nautilus shows how the concept of "freedom" is interpreted by different characters. To Ned Land, life under the sea apart from society is unbearably oppressive despite his exposure to the world's natural wonders and endless adventure. When Dr. Aronnax cautions that escape would be too dangerous under the sea's current conditions, Ned Land responds, "[We] have to risk that. Freedom is worth paying for." While Ned Land finds the Nautilus intolerable, Captain Nemo couldn't feel more different. He believes his secret underwater life apart from society has brought him freedom that wouldn't otherwise be possible. For him, to be free is to be free from society.

The topic of freedom also comes up on the night of Dr. Aronnax's thwarted escape. During his encounter with the captain, Dr. Aronnax begins to suspect Captain Nemo may be some sort of crusader for the downtrodden. His reverence for famous freedom fighters such as Abraham Lincoln and John Brown seems to reveal his sympathy with their causes. As they watch the divers collect the French convoy's riches, it seems Captain Nemo may be planning something when he says with indignation, "Do you think that it is for my own benefit that I take the trouble to gather these treasures? ... Do you think I am unaware there are suffering beings and oppressed races on this planet, wretches to be helped and victims to be avenged?"

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