20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Study Guide

Jules Verne

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Course Hero. "20,000 Leagues under the Sea Study Guide." June 29, 2017. Accessed September 30, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/20000-Leagues-under-the-Sea/.


Course Hero, "20,000 Leagues under the Sea Study Guide," June 29, 2017, accessed September 30, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/20000-Leagues-under-the-Sea/.

20,000 Leagues under the Sea | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Strange Reports

As 20,000 Leagues under the Sea opens in 1866, strange reports have been making their way home to Europe and the United States from the far reaches of the high seas. Beginning in July, multiple steamships claim to have come across some sort of enormous sea creature. Though completely unidentifiable, the creature bears a resemblance to a whale: it's oblong in shape and has been reported shooting air out of its top as it lingers on the surface. Close encounters result in collisions, and a particularly violent meeting with an English passenger steamship nearly sinks the boat. A frenzy of panic and fascination takes over the European and American press, provoking an outcry for the authorities to put an end to the maritime menace, which they soon oblige.

U.S. authorities outfit a well-armed frigate, the Abraham Lincoln, to hunt the monster and invite the estimable Dr. Pierre Aronnax to accompany the mission. Dr. Aronnax is the author of the two-volume work The Mysteries of the Ocean Deeps and is considered one of the world's foremost authorities on underwater life. He had been doing research in the United States and was getting ready to leave New York City for home when he received the invitation to join the Abraham Lincoln. He enthusiastically agrees and brings his loyal assistant and friend, Conseil, along with him.

The Chase and the Catch

The captain of the frigate is a serious and competent navy officer named Farragut. Along with Dr. Aronnax and Conseil, a seasoned Canadian harpooner named Ned Land joins his crew. The Abraham Lincoln chases the phantom sea menace for months but has little luck. In early November, just as they are about to abandon their mission, the crew spots the creature. After a violent tussle, Dr. Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned Land are knocked overboard. They float for some time and eventually wind up atop the creature itself—which turns out to be not a creature but a man-made submarine.

The submarine belongs to Captain Nemo, an intense but extraordinarily composed man. He is incredibly intelligent and even agreeable, but he withholds all personal information: "I have broken with society for reasons which I alone have the right to appreciate," he tells them. His submarine, the Nautilus, travels (underneath) the world, exploring its marvels and mysteries. Captain Nemo grants his new guests total freedom—with the restriction that they must return to their rooms on occasion when asked. Because they have discovered his secret, they are now bound to the submarine, and him, for life.

An Adventure of 20,000 Leagues

Thus kicks off a nearly 10-month adventure that covers a distance of 20,000 leagues. Over the course of the journey, Dr. Aronnax, Conseil, Ned Land, and the crew of the Nautilus visit coral reefs off the South Pacific, active volcanoes underneath the Mediterranean, icescapes in the South Pole, and countless other wonders of the natural world. At first their captivity seems to be a tolerable price to pay for their truly extraordinary adventures, but ultimately they are willing to risk death for their freedom.

During the trip, which is alternatively awe-inspiring, boring, life-changing, and terrifying, Dr. Aronnax tries to uncover pieces of Captain Nemo's life. Like the icebergs the Nautilus sails under, the captain's steely demeanor conceals an enormous weight lurking deep below the surface. Dr. Aronnax is thwarted until the very end of the journey, but even then, he discovers only hints about the captain's tortured past.

20,000 Leagues under the Sea Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Dr. Aronnax and Conseil join the Abraham Lincoln expedition.

Rising Action

2 The Abraham Lincoln attacks a seemingly mysterious creature.

3 Dr. Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned Land join the Nautilus.

4 The Nautilus nearly runs out of air under the South Pole.

5 One of Captain Nemo's men is killed by a giant squid.

6 Under fire, the Nautilus sinks a ship in the North Atlantic.


7 Dr. Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned Land escape from the Nautilus.

Falling Action

8 Dr. Aronnax wakes up in a hut in the Lofoten Islands.


9 Dr. Aronnax wonders about the fate of the Nautilus.

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