20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Summary, Quotes & Characters

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  • 0:00 Summary
  • 1:40 Primary Characters
  • 3:10 Quotations From The Book
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and extensive experience working in the business world as Director of Marketing and Business Development at a financial advice firm.

One of the first science fiction books ever written, 'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea' tells the story of three guests on board the Nautilus, a submarine whose capabilities match the torment of its captain.


Written by Jules Verne in 1870, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a book that tells us the story of three accidental visitors to an underwater world hosted by the mysterious Captain Nemo. From their arrival on board the Nautilus, the scholarly Professor Aronnax, loyal Conseil, and adventurous Ned Land are torn between exploring the new wonders of their surroundings and finding a way to escape.

They originally encounter the Nautilus in the Pacific Ocean as part of an expedition to find out what species of undiscovered whale has been damaging world shipping. However, far from encountering a whale that has wrecked world shipping, they soon find themselves on the iron plating of a new kind of vessel, a submarine. From there, the three find themselves below decks, with Arronax an honored guest of the vessel's commander, Captain Nemo.

As the book progresses, the men hunt underwater, fight sharks, encounter Atlantis, and fight off giant squid. However, after sinking a warship belonging to a country that caused the death of his family, Nemo loses control on his sanity. He realizes that despite his best efforts to the contrary, he is just as uncivilized as those who oppressed him in the past. Like those oppressors, he relied on advanced technology to gain the upper hand. In short, Nemo finds out that he's as cruel as his opponents, causing him to go over a psychological cliff. Guiding the submarine into a whirlpool off the coast, the vessel and all aboard seem destined for doom until Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned Land sneak into a boat and escape the Nautilus.

Primary Characters

The protagonist of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is Professor Aronnax. The story starts with him returning from archaeological digs in Nebraska, as per his role as a specialist at a prominent Paris Museum. It is by accident that he is invited on the expedition to hunt the Nautilus. However, once on board, he is constantly interested in the discoveries that happen every day as a result of his work. It is through his perspective that the book is told.

Conseil is Aronnax's servant. Fiercely loyal to Aronnax, he jumps in the water to the rescue of Aronnax after he falls off the steamer searching for the Nautilus. On the other hand, Ned Land has one goal in mind throughout the book: escape. That said, he does not shy away from the opportunity for unique adventure, such as underwater shark hunting, nor does he deprive the Nautilus of his skills as a whaler and as a warrior against the animal threats to the Nautilus.

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