Around the World in Eighty Days | Study Guide

Jules Verne

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Around the World in Eighty Days | Symbols



The clocks surrounding Phileas Fogg and their impeccable synchronization symbolize Fogg's attention to time in all aspects of his life, as he adheres to a precise daily schedule. Throughout the story Fogg is referred to as a machine and a chronometer, and he is meticulous about recording the time and date of each arrival and departure.

Truly time—not Fallentin, Stuart, and the other Reform Club members—is Fogg's real adversary, and so the clocks surrounding Fogg more accurately symbolize his struggle to control time rather than be controlled by it. While he wrestles with time during every moment of his life in London, it is the wager that allows him to finally becomes its master. When making his wager, Fogg stipulates an exact time he will return, signaling the end of the challenge. Fogg's goal is not to conquer the space or distance of the journey but to conquer time.

The various timetables of ships and the schedules of trains halfway across the world, which allow Fogg to make his calculations with such precision, are the fruits of colonization. Fogg's emphasis on time and the possibility of making this journey is only feasible because of the vastness of the British Empire. Even his own watch, which he he uses to track the pace of his journey, is a gift of his country. Clearly, the human struggle with time and the desire to master it are byproducts of the modern age.

Modern Transportation

Jules Verne features multiple advances in transportation to show how modern technology has made the world smaller through travel. Samuel Fallentin, a Reform Club member, proclaims that progress has made travel around the world "ten times quicker than a hundred years before." (Indeed, it would have taken over two years to circle the globe in the 18th century.) Yet, although Fogg makes it around the globe in fewer than 80 days, he still finds a wild, not entirely orderly, world. The world is not tame, and the newfangled modes of transportation are not invincible. People still sometimes need to rely on old-fashioned modes of transportation like elephants and crude sledges. So, modern transportation also symbolizes the futility of civilization's goal to tame the world.


Circles dominate the novel—beginning with the very notion of circumnavigation and circling the globe. Verne sums it up well in Chapter 11: "He was not traveling, he was tracing a circle. He was matter in orbit around the globe, following the laws of physics." In physics, space and time are not separate but interwoven entities. Phileas Fogg views time as the conquerable element of the two.

Linked to circles are concepts such as locomotion and speed. The book is a study of the various 19th-century modes of transportation. All of them serve only to take Phileas Fogg back to where he started, having "conquered" the world by calculations, confidence, and the recent improvements in travel.

Circles come into play on a figurative level as well, raising the question of whether the characters change over the course of the novel. Certainly, at first it seems that Fogg will not change, that he is closed to change, and that he has designed this wager so he may return to business as usual when it's over. Circles, therefore, symbolize Fogg's tendency to see his travels as not a journey but merely a continuation of things (and of himself) as usual. Mrs. Aouda effects a true change to his plans; not only does her plight draw Fogg out of character, but she is his consolation when he thinks he's lost the wager upon his return.

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