20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is one of a series of fantastic journeys that established Verne’s reputation. It is not a fully fledged science-fiction novel but instead a “scientific romance,” an adventure novel that does not speculate about the future but provides a series of adventures with the help of only slightly extrapolated scientific gadgets. Verne took his science very seriously and verified all data according to the best sources available to him. This care regrettably was hidden for nearly a hundred years to English-speaking readers by the unreliable Mercier Lewis translation. Indeed, part of the attraction of the novel to contemporaneous readers was its function as a popular scientific primer, particularly regarding the world below the surface of the ocean, which was as mysterious to readers in 1870 as deep space was to later generations. The long, dry catalogs of maritime flora and fauna that modern readers may justifiably skip were fascinating to the author’s nonspecialist reading public.
In addition to teaching popular science, Verne also served as a model for future writers of science fiction. His work shows the delight in gadgetry typical of magazine science fiction in the early twentieth century and was among the first to question seriously the role, function, and ownership of scientific inventions. Aronnax holds the “Baconian” view that scientific advances—in this case, the Nautilus and its potential—belong to all of humanity and that Nemo has an obligation to publish and make available the results of his research. Nemo represents the classical “Faustian” view, that scientific inventions belong to the inventors (or their sponsors), who can do with them as they please. Nemo uses the submarine for his own personal and selfish ends, albeit with some justification, as readers of The Mysterious Island discover.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a thrilling scientific romance that foreshadows many of the thematic concerns of later popular science fiction. “Good” and “bad” science and scientists, ecological problems, international language projects, colonialism, and human rights are but a few of the topics dealt with in this multifaceted novel.
20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA: LITERARY ANALYSIS / PLOT SUMMARY
Aronnax is the main character, narrator, and protagonist of this novel. He is a classic pedant. He makes obscure references, greatly respects social protocol, and refuses to base his relationship with the world around him on his senses-- he relies entirely on what he reads and rationalizes. His name is strikingly close to the word arrogant, and he is very arrogant--about his intellect and his nationality. He is an astute observer of nationality and appears quite biased.
Throughout the course of this novel Aronnax slowly overcomes, or at least eases many of these faults. His major conflict is his confrontation with the Nautilus :when he has to choose to between science and humanity, between learning as much as he can and losing his heart in the process or trusting his fellow man and his own senses, he chooses the latter.
Ned Land serves as a foil of Pierre Aronnax. Land has perfect eyesight, meaning he trust what he sees before him, instead of what he hears from others. Land prefers to engage reality, not consider hypothetical possibilities. While Aronnax wants to observe sea life, Land wants to hunt it.
Nemo is the antagonist of the novel. He presents the situation that causes Aronnax to change: he creates the Nautilus. Nemo is the most complex character in this book. He appears to be a mysterious and sinister character. However, he frequently portrays compassion and sorrow. He is always brilliant. Even at the end of the story, we do not know very much about him besides he has retreated from land to avenge the lives of his wife and children. In Latin, Nemo means nobody. This is very true of the captain. He cannot be identified by a name--he asks them to call him Nemo, which appears to be a self-appointed name. We never find out his nationality, which is a very important quality to the narrator.
Ned Lands name obviously comes from Land, meaning terra firma as Verne often calls it. Ned Land is a harpooner by trade; he hunts what is in the sea, he is attached to the Land. He is also much earthier than Aronnax. He does not possess the same social graces, and he lacks Aronnax refined knowledge of academic philosophy and culture. Yet, in the end it is Lands action that frees them from the ship--not Aronnaxs slow and deliberate plan to reason with Captain Nemo.
In French conseil means counsel. Aronnax tells us that his manservant never offers counsel. However, this seems to be another example of Aronnaxs arrogance, because Conseil frequently counsels the others. He is very tactful however, and usually prefaces his advice with If monsieur pleases. Verne also had a friend named Jacques-Francoise Conseil who tested a submarine very similar to the Nautilus in 1858.
Conseil is more or less a flat character. The only side of his personality that the reader really sees is his faithful and serving disposition. He is frequently a humorous character, who is consistently calm and supportive of his master.
PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The plot of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas is essentially simple: Three men set out to capture and explain the unexplainable. Instead they are captured and encounter a brilliant madman who travels the seas seeking revenge and beauty. The men cannot continue in such a manner, so they risk their lives to free themselves.
A good portion of this novel is mere entertainment. Verne spends paragraphs explaining geography and marine life. These descriptions do little to advance the plot except when characterization is revealed through their observation.
The real genius of this work, besides its incessant entertainment, lies in its ability to present technological advancement as the potential demise of man. This is an unnerving subject for the 19th century world which was riding high on the effects of the spreading Industrial Revolution.
The exposition of the novel occurs in the first chapter. In this chapter we meet Pierre Aronnax, the main character and we are presented with the major concern of the novel--something malicious is destroying innocent life.
ach encounter the men have with Nemo bring them closer to their ultimate need to escape his grasp. Each event presents a different side of Nemo, and thus influences the mens impression of the captain and their situation.
The climax occurs when the men try to escape. This is a monumental decision because it presents a case in which Aronnax is trusting his own senses and those of Land. Furthermore, Aronnax is abandoning the possibility of further study because he cannot be involved in the maliciousness of the Nautilus. Here we realize that even though Aronnax saw himself becoming a fanatic, like Nemo, about life on the vessel and its scientific pursuit, it is not worth it for him to remain involved with the slaughter of innocent men.
The mood of this novel is mysterious. At the books resolution, the reader is not entirely aware of everything. Captain Nemo, who is cloaked in anonymity, remains so at the novels end.