20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, written by Jules Verne in the 1800’s, is a science fiction novel. The main setting of the book is on board the Nautilus, the engineering feat of the intellectual Captain Nemo. The main themes of this work are Protagonist versus Antagonist and Protagonist versus himself. The minor themes are revenge, liberty, adventure, exploration, and knowledge
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Jules Gabriel Verne was born in France on the eight of February in the year 1828 (Reynolds 1). As a child, Verne showed an early interest in science and literature, as well as boats. Jules carried around a notebook to record his thoughts on paper and to make concrete, the ideas that formed in his head (Reynolds 2). His parents enrolled him into the Seminary of Saint Donatien when he was nine years of age (Reynolds 2) and he began to study law at the age of sixteen in Paris, France. Although Jules studied to become a lawyer, he never finished. While in Paris, he realized that his true calling was to be a writer, although Jule’s father did not approve (Reynolds 8). Jules did not let his father’s disapproval cause him to pass up the dream he wanted to live. He married Honorie Morel in the year 1857(Reynolds 10). After struggling trying to sustain an adequate life for himself as well as his wife, Jules began to work as a stockbroker (Liukkonen 1). During this time, he met Pierre Jules Hetzel who subsequently published Jules’ major works. One of these major works was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Jules Verne, along with H.G. Wells, represents the fathers of science fiction writing (Liukkonen 1). Science fiction “is the major non-realistic mode of imaginative creation of our epoch” (Franklin 1). Jules personifies this throughout 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by making the impossible become possible through his elaborate explanations of the mysterious undersea world. For instance, the Nautilus, the sea of pearls, the giant squid, and the cemetery of choral all exemplify the aspects of science fiction. Jules’ dexterity for writing science fiction laid down a precedent for later generations to follow making him one of the true pioneers of science fiction.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is full of specific themes that any reader can analyze. The first is the protagonist, Professor Arronax, versus the antagonist, Captain Nemo. Once onboard the Nautilus, Arronax, Land, and Conseil must make a promise, “What! we must renounce forever seeing our country, our friends, our relations again?”, “Yes, sir.” (Verne 55) Throughout the novel Arronax and Nemo coincide on the idea of knowledge and understanding. This is the driving force that keeps Arronax onboard. Arronax loves knowledge and will do anything to embellish himself in knowledge. Ned Land and Conseil do not share this same affinity. Imprisoned to the Nautilus by the contract brought up by Nemo, Ned Land and Conseil agree, “[â€¦] the time has come to part company with Captain Nemo” (Verne 117). Leaving is hard because the nautilus does not come up for air for an extended period. One must wonder, where did the harsh promise come from causing men to devote their lives to staying under sea? .Captain Nemo’s view of the sea is more intimate, in a sense, than the views of Conseil and Ned Land. Nemo stresses that society is corrupt and nothing good comes from society. Later, the reader learns that Captain Nemo’s family was subject to war, which led to the death of Nemo’s family. Nemo’s argument in staying on the Nautilus is that the sea provides for all the needs of the men onboard. Nemo understands he has the upper hand at sea and exploits that power in the book numerous times.
Another key theme in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is the theme of Protagonist versus himself. Professor Arronax is constantly jumping back and forth of whether or not to leave or to stay onboard the Nautilus with the quick tempered Nemo. Arronax has a weakness though. Like Nemo, Arronax has an affinity for knowledge and understanding. Pressured by Ned Land constantly of escaping, Arronax position of deciding to leave the Nautilus is a delicate position. Arronax understands Nemo is dangerous to himself as well as his own crewmembers, “I am the law, and I am the judge! I am the oppressed and there is the oppressor!” (Verne 313). Arronax must also consider his own feelings as well, both as a scientist and a human being. As a scientist, Arronax must reveal important discoveries, which could influence the lives of humans. As a human being, Arronax must consider his life as well as his fellow companions. Throughout the novel Nemo reveals the mysteries of the sea, such as Vigo Bay. Nemo finds the Spanish fleet of 1702 lost at sea and states the value of the riches at, “Five hundred Millions […]” (Verne, 215). Arronax ends up making the decision that leaving the Nautilus is the right choice.
Contained in the novel are numerous minor themes such as revenge, liberty, adventure, exploration, and knowledge. Revenge only applies to Nemo. Many years ago, Nemo lost his most cherished possession, his family. From this loss formed, his deep hatred to society and personally felt it was necessary to take revenge on society. With the help of the Nautilus Nemo could achieve the satisfaction he longed for. Nemo shouts, “[â€¦] Through him I have lost all that I loved, cherished, and venerated- country, wife, children, father, and mother.[â€¦], All that I hate is there! [â€¦]” (Verne 313). Nemo’s feeling of power comes from the Nautilus. Nemo’s “perfect” creation allows him to escape society and rule his own government. The Nautilus is the first of the submarines and many people mistake it for a whale. With society retaliating on this “[â€¦] monster- the famous narwhal” (Verne 14), Nemo was in prime position to take advantage of the stealth of the Nautilus. Nemo used the stealth of the Nautilus to destroy many ships and kill many innocent sailors thus fulfilling the urge to take revenge.
The next minor theme, liberty, applies to all the main characters in the novel and even society. Nemo’s form of liberty comes from society. Nemo tries to liberate himself from corrupt society by staying at sea in the Nautilus. Arronax, Conseil, and Ned Land are constantly trying to free themselves from the imprisonment of Nemo. Many Arronax, Conseil, and Ned Land feel the need to leave for many reasons. Once at sea, Nemo killed a vast amount of whales and afterwards Ned Land affirms, “it is a terrible spectacle, certainly. But I am not a butcher. I am a hunter, and I call this a butchery” (Verne 244). The theme applies to society because the world tries to rid itself of the monster that haunts the seas.
After liberty comes adventure. Probably the most significant contributor to the novel, adventure keeps the book flowing. Affected the most by adventure is Arronax. Both on land and undersea, Arronax is apart from adventure. Part of the adventure comes from the Nautilus’ panels where Arronax discerns the mysterious world of the sea. Arronax views the landscape along with the fish. The diving suits were the most important part of the undersea adventures because the suits allowed the men to stay underwater for an extended duration. Although many adventures took place undersea, many explorations on land supplied the need for originality in the lives of the Arronax, Conseil, and Ned Land. At this point in time, the Antarctic remained an undiscovered landmark due to the ice that defended the land. Nemo decided he would be the first to explore the area, “I Captain Nemo, on this 21st day of March 1868, have reached the south pole, [â€¦], I take possession of this part of the globe” (Verne 263). Another key example of an adventure was the savages of the island. The Nautilus, trapped in the water, was unable to move position. The savages noticed the men searching the island and began to retaliate. The savages from the book were the closest enemies to invading the Nautilus.
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With adventure comes exploration and Nemo’s motive was to explore places with Arronax to keep him entertained. The Antarctic, was a perfect venue for exploration because, “[â€¦] up to this time, no human being has left a trace [here]” (Verne 255). The second vicinity of exploration came from the island of the savages. While docked Arronax, Conseil, and Ned Land were able to hunt the native game and to have some fun. Unfortunately, the fun was short lived due to the hostility of the savages. Luckily, undersea exploration yielded more moments that are awe-inspiring for Arronax, Conseil, and Ned Land. The sea of pearls contained over 150 pearls at the bottom of a bay. The best part about the exploration was the coconut sized pearl protected by a large mollusk. Arronax estimated the value of the pearl to be at 500,000 Euros. The cemetery of choral was a more down to earth experience because the crewmembers were burying a fellow sailor. These explorations led to the continued interest of obtaining the knowledge the sea had to offer.
The main reason for Arronax’s interest in the Nautilus was the vast amount of unknown knowledge that Nemo had to offer. Arronax was a scientist, which revealed his love for knowledge. Arronax’s journals helped the reader understand how he truly felt about the knowledge also. Nemo had an affinity for knowledge as well. The Nautilus itself is a technological feat in and of itself. Not a single person has ever seen or heard of such a machine before because Nemo built the Nautilus in secret. His library contained over 12,000 volumes and a collection of natural specimens (Fry 1). Nemo’s collection clarified his love for gaining knowledge and understanding it. The only piece of knowledge Nemo did not have was how to forgive and forget.
The imagination of Jules set his novels apart from the rest of the writing world. From giant squids all the way to the lost city of Atlantis, Jules Verne had a gift; a gift that revolutionized the way people think. Not just in people’s daily lives but in people’s imaginations as well. The themes expressed in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea identify the one of a kind psyche Jules had for writing science fiction novels. These themes bring together the plot and lay down the foundation for future groundbreaking novels of the 1900’s.
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