Study Guide for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Part One

Chapter One, A Moving Reef: A mysterious sea monster threatens ships.

Study Questions:

  1. How does Verne capitalize on human "primal fear" in this chapter?
  1. What makes this first chapter compelling so that you want to dive in and keep reading?
  1. What similarities and/or differences exist between the news media's coverage of the recent shark attacks and the reports of a monster in this first chapter?
  1. Why do you think Verne put this chapter first?

Chapter Two, The Pros and Cons: Professor Pierre Aronnax postulates on the origins of the sea monster.

Study Questions:

  1. What are the Pros and Cons that Professor Arronax weighs with regard to the identity of the monster?
  1. What physical and behavioral characteristics does the monster share and not share with marine mammals?
  1. In what ways is Professor Arronax typical of a scientist and in what ways does he let himself be less than scientific?

Chapter Three, Whatever Pleases Master: Aronnax and his man-servant, Conseil, join the Abraham Lincoln, a warship, to destroy the sea monster.

Study Questions:

1.      What does this chapter reveal about the personalities and relationship of Conseil and Arronax?

2.      How is classification of shirts and suits similar to classification of birds and mammals?

3.      Why do you think Verne chooses the name Abraham Lincoln for the frigate that sets out to destroy the monster and why is its captain named Farragut?


Chapter Four, Ned Land: Ned Land, a notorious harpooner, offers his opinion on the nature of the sea monster.

Study Questions

  1. Describe the differences between Ned Land’s and Professor Arronax’s opinion regarding the nature of the monster?
  1. How are Captain Farragut and the Abraham Lincoln ideally suited for tracking and destroying the monster?
  1. What does Ned Land mean by the statement, “figures can lie” and why is he qualified to make such a statement?

Chapter Five, At Random: The Abraham Lincoln searches far and wide for the sea monster.

Study Questions

  1. What do you think Conseil means by the statement “If Master would not open his eyes so wide, Master would see more”?
  1. What does this chapter reveal about shipboard life aboard the Abraham Lincoln?
  1. What does this chapter reveal about trying to find a “monster” (or any object) in the world ocean?

Chapter Six, At Full Steam: The “sea monster” rams the Abraham Lincoln, throwing Arronax, Conseil and Ned overboard.

Study Questions

  1. What characteristics of the monster, as revealed in this chapter, support or refute Professor Arronax’s “narwhal” hypothesis for the identity of the monster?
  1. What is bioluminescence, what are the chemical reactions involved and what kinds of organisms produce it?
  1. How does Verne build suspense leading up to the hideous collision at the end of the chapter?

Chapter Seven, An Unknown Species of Whale: Aronnax. Ned and Conseil are rescued by the metallic sea monster.

Study Questions

  1. Argue whether you think Professor Arronax is an open-minded scientist or one who allows his feelings and prejudices to pervade his thinking, based on what you learn in this chapter.
  1. What do you think of Conseil, who appears willing to sacrifice his own life for the Professor’s? What do you think motivates him and what symbolism might Verne be trying to attach to this character?
  1. What was known about submarines in Verne’s time and how is Verne’s imagination at work here?
  1. Why is this chapter titled “An Unknown Species of Whale”?

Chapter Eight, Mobilis in Mobile: The three men attempt to communicate with the crewmen of the Nautilus.

Study Questions

  1. How does the term Mobilis in Mobile not only apply to the submarine Nautilus but to the “freedom” that the submarine offers…or doesn’t offer?
  1. What is revealed about Professor Arronax in the description of his first impression of Captain Nemo?
  1. Why do you think Verne created an unknown language for the Captain and crew of the Nautilus?
  1. Discuss the importance of the mysteries that Verne introduces in this Chapter.

Chapter Nine, The Wrath of Ned Land: Ned Land attacks a crewmember.

Study Questions

  1. Why does Ned think the Captain and crew are cannibals (or pirates) and how does his opinion add to the dramatic tension in this chapter?
  1. What two plans for escape emerge from this chapter?
  1. Why is Verne’s cliffhanger at the end of this chapter such a great one?

Chapter Ten, The Man of the Waters: Captain Nemo introduces himself.

Study Questions

  1. Why is Captain Nemo justified or not justified in his assertion that the Professor, Ned and Conseil should be treated as enemies?
  1. What do we learn about Captain Nemo’s intellect, background and philosophy in this chapter?
  1. List the foods eaten in this chapter and classify them according to phylum and/or class.

Chapter Eleven, The Nautilus: The Professor marvels at the Nautilus.

Study Questions

  1. What do you think is Nemo’s idea of utopia, an ultimate dream world, based on what we learn about his ship in this chapter?
  1. What does Verne’s description of the Nautilus tell us and not tell us about the mind of Nemo?
  1. Is Nemo “playing” with Professor Aronax, trying to win him over by showing him all his valuables, or is Nemo genuinely trying to make a friend?

Chapter Twelve, Everything by Electricity: Nemo explains the ship’s operations.

Study Questions

  1. How does Verne use existing scientific principles and inventions to “equip” the Nautilus “beyond all belief”?
  1. What is Verne trying to achieve by describing in detail all of the workings of the Nautilus?
  1. How could you check the accuracy of Verne’s science in this chapter? Follow up with one example and confirm or refute Verne’s science.

Chapter Thirteen, Some Figures: Aronnax learns about the ship’s hydrodynamics.

Study Questions

  1. Calculate the total weight of water pressure on the Nautilus resting at six and a half miles deep, in pounds per square inch. Use the dimensions of the Nautilus given in this chapter. Why are these calculations important?
  1. What is Verne trying to achieve by describing in detail how the Nautilus maneuvers?
  1. What is revealed about Nemo’s character at the end of this chapter and how does it confirm or alter our perception of him?

Chapter Fourteen, The Black Current: Nautilus sets sail across the Pacific.

Study Questions

  1. How does Verne’s description of the size of the oceans and the geology of their origins “set the stage” for our novel, much like the setting of a play?
  1. How does Verne combine action, like determining the ship’s position, with characterization and suspense, like Aronnax’s curiosity about Nemo’s nationality?
  1. How does the “conversation” in the middle of page 96 summarize the characters of the three men, Aronnax, Conseil and Ned Land?
  1. Why do you think Verne provides a “laundry list” of fish species (the first of many) in this chapter?

Chapter Fifteen, A Letter of Invitation: Nemo invites the men on an underwater hunting expedition.

Study Questions

  1. What do we learn about various seaweeds in this chapter and how are submarine forests like terrestrial forests?
  1. How is Verne’s ability to take new inventions and extend their application for his novels evident in this chapter?
  1. Where do we find mussels in southern California and is it plausible that their byssal threads could be used for clothing?

Chapter Sixteen, A Walk on the Ocean Floor: The men delight in the undersea world.

Study Questions

  1. What lessons in ocean optics are evident in Professor Aronnax’s underwater observations of light in this chapter?
  1. Which plants and animals of Crespo’s submarine forest are similar to California’s submarine forest and which are different?
  1. Do Verne’s descriptions of the physical environment and the flora and fauna of Crespo Island seem accurate? What are the inconsistencies?

Chapter Seventeen, A Submarine Forest: A kelp forest reveals its secrets.

Study Questions

  1. What does Aronnax mean when he quotes “the animal kingdom flowers and the vegetable kingdom doesn’t!”?
  1. What proper scuba diving techniques are used by Nemo and which “rules” does he ignore? Why would Verne advocate improper diving techniques?
  1. What nineteenth century attitudes towards animals and hunting are revealed in this chapter?

Chapter Eighteen, Four Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: Nemo and the Professor discuss oceanography.

Study Questions

  1. What are the inconsistencies in the method of fishing and the types of fish caught by the crew of the Nautilus?
  1. Discuss the accuracy and inaccuracy of Nemo’s version of thermohaline circulation as it is currently understood by physical oceanographers.
  1. How are shipwrecks symbolic of man’s relationship with the sea and what does this symbolisms say about the role of technology to overcome Nature’s power?

Chapter Nineteen, Vanikoro: The Professor learns the fate of a famous shipwreck.

Study Questions

  1. What does Nemo mean when he says “This planet doesn’t need new continents, it needs new men?”
  1. What is Darwin’s theory of the formation of atolls and why do you think Verne mentions it here?
  1. Why does Verne relate the story of the La Perouse shipwreck and how does he embellish it?

Chapter Twenty, The Torres Strait: The Nautilus runs aground on a coral reef.

Study Questions

  1. In oceanographic terms, why is the Torres Strait a dangerous place for ships?
  1. Discuss the type of tides encountered in the Torres Strait and explain how Nemo knew the Nautilus would float free five days after running aground?
  1. Compare and contrast Verne’s version of Papua, New Guinea, with our modern knowledge of this exotic place?

Chapter Twenty-One, A Few Days on Land: The three men explore a tropical island.

Study Questions

  1. How is the men’s excursion on land like an episode of Survivor’s?
  1. How does this chapter contrast Ned Land’s capabilities as a man with practical and useful experience versus Professor Aronnax’s “bookish” experience?
  1. Discuss the importance of this chapter as a microcosm of human nature that gives support to Nemo’s contention that “what this planet needs are new men.”

Chapter Twenty-Two, Captain Nemo’s Lightning: Cannibals attack the Nautilus.

Study Questions

  1. What does Nemo mean when he says “Are you surprised, Professor, at setting foot on land…and finding savages there? Where aren’t there savages?”
  1. What modern-day events support or refute Nemo’s contention that the entire world is inhabited by savages?
  1. Compare and contrast the Professor’s attitude towards native peoples with modern-day attitudes towards these people. Have our attitudes “progressed”?
  1. In what ways does Nemo think of himself as a Captain Cook or d’Orville? What is Nemo thinking when he says of d’Orville “If that energetic man had the power to think in those final seconds of his life, imagine what his last thoughts must have been.”?
  1. Discuss the symbolism of the electric barrier in light of the statement that “It could be said in truth that he had set up between himself and his enemies an electric barrier that no one could clear with impunity.”

Chapter Twenty-Three, Aegri Somnia: Nemo prepares to assault a warship.

Study Questions

  1. What prevailing cultural attitudes towards women is revealed in Verne’s description of the Rajahs, “sons of crocodiles, who are sheltered, nourished, flattered, pampered and offered a ritual diet of young maidens…”? Is Verne scornful of these men or quietly complicit?
  1. Offer your opinions on whether scientific data should be shared openly with the world at large or kept to those few scientists and governments who create it.
  1. Aronnax writes: “This way of life seemed simple and natural and we no longer envisaged a different mode of existence on land, and then something happened to remind us of the strangeness of our situation.” What happened to remind Aronnax of his plight and how do events in our lives act to change our “benign” perspective?

Chapter Twenty-Four, The Realm of Coral: A fatally injured crewmember is put to rest in a coral cemetery.

Study Questions

  1. How is the death of the crewman—and indeed, the exposure of his brain by injury—symbolic of events aboard the Nautilus and Nemo’s ultimate fate?
  1. What belief system(s) does Nemo express when he says “A brother sacrifices himself for his brother, a friend for a friend, what could be simpler? That’s the law for all of us pn board the Nautilus.”?
  1. Why does Verne bury the crewman in a coral garden and how are some of the coral species identified by Aronnax symbolic of Verne’s intentions here?
  1. What does Nemo mean when he speaks one of this most famous lines that his crewman is “out of reach of sharks…and men.”?

Part Two

Chapter One, The Indian Ocean: The living marvels of the Indian Ocean parade past the Nautilus.

Study Questions

  1. How does Professor Aronnax view his current situation aboard the Nautilus? How has his opinion about Nemo changed and how has it remained the same since his imprisonment?
  1. Discuss the possible symbolism of the sea creatures observed and remarked on by Aronnax in this chapter. How may these animals resemble the plight of the imprisoned men aboard Nautilus? Hint: Aronnax lists animals with hard shells, spines and/or poisons. Look carefully at the list and draw comparisons between the protective mechanisms of the animals and the themes Verne is developing in this chapter.
  1. In what ways does Verne provide an otherworldly, Halloween-esque portrayal of the Indian Ocean at the end of this chapter? What effect do you think he is trying to achieve?

Chapter Two, A New Proposition from Captain Nemo: The Professor gives a lesson on pearls.

Study Questions

  1. How is Verne’s humor blatantly on display in this chapter? What effect do you think he is trying to achieve?
  1. In what ways are modern people still hypocritical about the plight of exploited workers, such as the pearl divers in this chapter? How can people exercise their economic power to minimize the corporate exploitation of third world peoples?
  1. Where do modern-day pearls come from and how are they produced?

Chapter Three, A Pearl Worth Ten Million: A shark attacks the men while diving on an oysterbank.

Study Questions

  1. How does Verne exploit the human weaknesses of greed and fear in this chapter?
  1. What does Ned Land mean when he says to Captain Nemo “One good turn deserves another…”? and what does it reveal about the character of Ned Land.
  1. Why do you think Captain Nemo was willing to sacrifice his life for the Ceylonese pearl diver and what does it reveal about the character and, perhaps, the nationality of Nemo?
  1. What do we know about shark behavior from modern-day studies that contrasts with the shark behavior described by Aronnax in this chapter?

Chapter Four, The Red Sea: The men observe the wonders of the Red Sea.

Study Questions

  1. What are trichodesmia (cyanobacteria) and why are they important in the Red Sea? How does Verne use these organisms to create suspense in this chapter?
  1. What do we know from Verne and modern sources about the oceanographic and meteorological conditions of the Red Sea that make it perilous for ships?
  1. Discuss the difference in Ned’s and the Professor’s opinion about the nature of their plight, which leads Ned to say “A man is not really alive unless he is free.”
  1. How does Aronnax’s discussion of the sponge teach us about the scientific method, especially with regard to classification of sponges?

Chapter Five, The Arabian Tunnel: The Nautilus negotiates a secret underwater tunnel.

Study Questions

  1. How does this chapter fulfill man’s dream to connect the Mediterranean and Red Seas and what engineering event made it possible soon after publication of 20K? How does Verne use such dreams and events to add intrigue to his novels?
  1. What is a dugong, where does it live, how does it feed and why is it endangered? How does this chapter once again point to man’s reckless exploitation of the sea?
  1. Discuss the possible symbolism of Nemo piloting the Nautilus through the Arabian tunnel himself. How are sexual undertones in the novel expressed or repressed in the actions and descriptions of the characters?

Chapter Six, The Isles of Greece: Ned and the Professor debate their escape.

Study Questions

  1. At this point in the novel, what are the motivations of Aronnax, Ned and Conseil to remain on the vessel or escape it? In what ways do the motivations of the characters control the plot or in what ways does the plot control the character’s motivations?
  1. Look up the word “protean” in a dictionary. How do the many definitions of the word represent conditions aboard and external to the Nautilus? How does the word apply to the nature of the men aboard Nautilus, including Nemo?
  1. How does the appearance of Il Pesce, the Cretan diver, suggest that Nemo’s exploits are not solely confined to the sea? In what ways can men and women be complicit in “actions” without actually having to take part in them?
  1. What do you think Aronnax means when, in the midst of nearly being boiled alive, he calls refers to Nemo as Nemo the Impassive? How might these undersea volcanoes be symbolic of Nemo as a man?

Chapter Seven, Through the Mediterranean in 48 Hours: Arronax cites a profusion of Mediterranean sea life.

Study Questions

  1. What is Verne hoping to achieve by listing such a profusion of marine fishes, crustaceans and other sea creatures in this chapter? What is the Professor’s motivation in light of Ned Land’s heightened desire to escape? Where is the Nautilus located that might create heightened interest in the marine organisms cited by Aronnax?
  1. Discuss the general oceanic circulation of the waters of the Mediterranean. How do waters from the Mediterranean influence the hydrography of the Atlantic ocean?
  1. How does Verne’s version of the geologic origins of the Mediterranean Sea compare with modern-day interpretations?

Chapter Eight, The Bay of Vigo: Nemo reveals the source of his riches.

Study Questions

  1. How does Aronnax demonstrate his anxiety as he prepares to escape? Do you think Nemo knows he is contemplating escape? Why or why not?
  1. What can we glean about Nemo’s opinion of himself and his cause from the portraits of great men that he keeps hung in his cabin?
  1. How does the story of Admiral Chateau-Renault mirror Nemo’s intentions and why do you think he relates this story to the Professor just at the moment the Professor is making ready to escape?
  1. What does this chapter reveal about Nemo’s actions beyond the Nautilus? In what ways does Nemo’s power reach beyond the undersea world?

Chapter Nine, A Lost Continent: Aronnax and Nemo explore the lost city of Atlantis.

Study Questions

  1. Discuss the idea that Nemo knew of the plans to escape and is, in essence, rewarding the Professor for not escaping by inviting him on a private tour of the lost city of Atlantis.
  1. How does Verne masterfully hold our suspense before revealing the identity of the lost continent?
  1. What is the legend of Atlantis, how did it get started and how does Verne bolster this legend, indeed, to such an extent that interest in Atlantis thrived following publication of 20K?

Chapter Ten, The Submarine Coalfields: Nautilus surfaces inside a volcanic island.

Study Questions

  1. Discuss Nemo’s guerilla tactics with regards to his movements and activities, especially how he produces the sodium he needs to fuel his ship.
  1. What forces give rise to undersea and island volcanoes? What features of Verne’s undersea volcano appear accurate and what features are missing? Hint: think of what happens to lava as it enters the sea.
  1. Discuss Aronnax’s dream where his existence is reduced to that of a bivalve stuck inside a shell. What do you think of the argument that the Nautilus, the volcano and the dream represent a womb from which Aronnax will be reborn? Are there any indications that the Professor’s character is transforming?

Chapter Eleven, The Sargasso Sea: Aronnax takes a picture at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Study Questions

  1. Discuss geostrophic flow in oceanic gyres. How does this oceanographic phenomenon lead to “nightmarish” places like the Sargasso Sea?
  1. Discuss the Professor’s thoughts about never seeing his countrymen again with his observations on dogfish and killer whales. Support or refute the argument that the Professor is beginning to feel the burdens of his voyage.
  1. What might we make of Nemo’s benevolent gesture to take a picture of Aronnax at the deepest part of the Atlantic, the part of the ocean to which the Professor has dedicated his life? Is it possible Nemo foresees releasing the Professor one day so that he could show the picture to the world?
  1. Compare Verne’s limited account of deep-sea life with our modern-day knowledge of the abyss.

Chapter Twelve, Sperm Whales and Baleen Whales: Nemo massacres sperm whales on the high seas.

Study Questions

  1. How is the Professor’s selfishness in some part responsible for Ned’s highly agitated condition? Why do you think Conseil sticks up for Ned in this case?
  1. What evidence does Verne provide for the unfortunate plight of whales during the 19th Century. What is the current condition of whale populations worldwide?
  1. Support or refute the idea that Verne is pro-whaling? Why do you think Verne includes “environmental” issues in this novel?
  1. How does Verne rail against man’s savagery, particularly with regard to man’s exploitation of the sea? Discuss Nemo’s hypocrisy in terms of his views on “uncivilized” men versus his wholesale slaughter of the sperm whales.
  1. Compare Verne’s description of the behavior of sperm whales with modern-day observations.

Chapter Thirteen, The Ice Bank: Nemo ventures beneath the ice of the South Pole.

Study Questions

  1. Discuss the effects of sediments, phytoplankton and ice itself on the color of sea ice.
  1. Compare and contrast the origins of icebergs versus pack ice.
  1. How has Ned Land moderated his view of Nemo in this chapter? And what does he mean when he says to Aronnax “…you and your Captain Nemo, I pity you two..”?
  1. What evidence do we see that Nemo has been “toying” with the Professor and what is the effect on the Professor?
  1. Discuss the errors in this chapter with regards to water temperatures, iceberg height to volume ratios and the Antarctic itself. Why do you think Verne made these errors?

Chapter Fourteen, The South Pole: Nemo stakes his claim to Antarctica.

Study Questions

  1. How is it that Conseil can reel out schemes of classification with perfect clarity yet not recognize the organisms to which they apply? What does this tell us about the character of Conseil?
  1. Why do you think Verne spends considerable time describing the natural history of Antarctica? How does he use what was known about polar waters to extrapolate what the men might see at the South Pole?
  1. How does Nemo justify setting foot on land at the South Pole? What trait of his character is blatantly revealed when he claims the Antarctic as his own? Why do you think Verne chose the Antarctic to reveal Nemo’s inflated ego?

Chapter Fifteen, Accident or Incident?: Nautilus is trapped beneath the ice.

Study Questions

  1. When Nemo says “we may brave the laws of humanity but we can’t withstand the laws of Nature” what law of humanity led him to be in this predicament in the first place? How does this chapter illustrate Nemo’s vulnerability and penchant for self-destruction?
  1. How does Verne cleverly weave plot, characterization and suspense in this chapter?
  1. What is the possible symbolism in the blinding light of the ice with regards to the plight of the three men? What do you think Ned means when he says “God never intended us to see…” such a wonderful spectacle?

Chapter Sixteen, Lack of Air: The men nearly suffocate from lack of air.

Study Questions

  1. In Chapter 13, the Professor remarks “what irritates me the most is a wall” to which Conseil adds “walls were invented to frustrate scientists.” At the beginning of this chapter, the Nautilus is surrounded by “impenetrable frozen walls”. What are these “walls” meant to represent in human, psychological and/or scientific terms?
  1. What does this chapter reveal about Nemo in the face of adversity? How do the strengths of Nemo counter his weaknesses, such that we are torn between loving and hating him?
  1. Discuss the sequence of events in this chapter. How does Verne hide his “ace in the hole” until the very end and why is this chapter a fine example of Verne’s masterful storytelling?

Chapter Seventeen, From Cape Horn to the Amazon: An electric ray shocks Conseil.

Study Questions

  1. Discuss your opinion of the crew members of Nautilus. Why do you think Verne chose to portray them as near-automatons, devoid of emotion or human needs? Does this add to or detract from the story?
  1. How has the near-death experience strengthened the bonds between the three prisoners, Aronnax, Conseil and Ned? How does this “meeting of the minds” signal the beginning of the end of our journey aboard Nautilus?
  1. What might we interpret from the Professor’s admission that his catalog of fishes is “somewhat dry, perhaps” and from his ending of such a list with an “et cetera”, i.e. as if listing more fishes is not of interest to him or that he has tired from this occupation?
  1. What is the possible symbolism of the electric ray, which shocks Conseil, and the helpless manatees, which fall victim to Nemo’s crew? Discuss these symbols in light of the stark realism that permeates this chapter.
  1. Discuss the lessons that Verne intends from the following passage: “…this plague is nothing compared to the scourge that will strike our descendants once we have exterminated all whales and seals. Then, overpopulated with cuttlefish, jellyfish and squid, the oceans will become vast centers of infection, since their waters will no longer contain ‘those cast stomachs that God has assigned to souring the surface of the seas.’”

Chapter Eighteen, Giant Squid: A giant squid attacks the Nautilus.

Study Questions

  1. How does Ned leverage his new friendship with the Professor, thus adding a new twist and bit of conflict to the story? How does the Professor respond and how does he finally make clear on whose side he stands?
  1. What characteristics of Verne’s cephalopod in this chapter are squid-like and which are octopus-like? Offer your opinion on whether this chapter should be called “Giant Squid” or “Giant Octopus”.
  1. What are the truths and legends concerning giant squid, in Verne’s time and ours?
  1. How are things aboard Nautilus beginning to fall apart? What should we make of Nemo’s hatred for the squid? What should we make of the poor crewman’s last words in his native tongue?
  1. What does Nemo mean when he says after saving Ned Land “One good turn deserves another…I owed it to myself to pay you back!”?
  1. What are the many sides of Nemo that we see in this chapter? How is Nemo himself like an octopus or squid?

Chapter Nineteen, The Gulf Stream: Nautilus navigates the mighty Gulf Stream and gets caught in a hurricane.

Study Questions

  1. How is the Gulf Stream like the “heart” of the ocean? What roles do ocean currents play in the affairs of men, marine organisms, seawater chemistry and ocean physics?
  1. Discuss the standoff between Nemo and the Professor. What is revealed about the character of these two men here?
  1. How does Verne use sea conditions to underscore the mental and emotional state of the men aboard Nautilus?

Chapter Twenty, In Latitude 47° 24’ and Longitude 17° 28’: The men discuss cod, the Nautilus follows the transatlantic cable and Nemo sights his favorite shipwreck.

Study Questions

  1. How is the Gulf Stream like the “heart” of the ocean? What roles do ocean currents play in the affairs of men, marine organisms, seawater chemistry and ocean physics?
  1. Discuss the standoff between Nemo and the Professor. What is revealed about the character of these two men here?
  1. How does Verne use sea conditions to underscore the mental and emotional state of the men aboard Nautilus?

Chapter Twenty-One, A Hetacomb: The British Navy attacks the Nautilus.

Study Questions

  1. What evidence do we now have that the Professor’s separation from Nemo is complete? Why do you think it took so long for the Professor to come to the realization that Nemo is a madman?
  1. Look up the word hetacomb. Discuss the willingness of men to die for a cause. How can we decide whether their cause is just or unjust?
  1. How does the attack of the warship help clarify earlier events in the Professor’s mind? How have the Professor’s feelings changed since his first encounter with Nemo?
  1. Why do you think Verne deliberately keeps the nationality of the attacking ship a secret? Why are the three men so interested in the nationality of the ship?
  1. Discuss this passage by the Professor in terms of its meaning for the entire novel: “And when I compared that deep calm of the elements with the ferocious passions brewing inside this barely perceptible submarine, I felt a chill pass over my entire being.”
  1. Why does Verne “delay” the escape of the three men? What does the Professor witness that counteracts his negative opinion of Nemo? How do you feel about Nemo at this point in the novel?
  1. Why is it important that we try to understand the reasons for Nemo’s hatred? Does the apparent killing of Nemo’s wife and children justify his actions? Why or why not?

Chapter Twenty-Two, The Last Words of Captain Nemo: The three men escape into a whirlpool.

Study Questions

  1. What evidence does Verne provide that all the men aboard Nautilus are at the end of their tether?
  1. What are we to make of Nemo’s last words, “O Almighty God! Enough! Enough!” Did Nemo repent? Has he decided to commit suicide? What do you think?
  1. How is the maelstrom a symbolic “death” for the Nautilus? What other famous novel ends with a ship going down in a swirling mass? Compare and contrast the similarities and differences between Captain Ahab and Captain Nemo.

Chapter Twenty-Three, Conclusion: Professor Aronnax poses some final questions.

Study Questions

  1. What questions remain unanswered at the end of the novel and why do you think Verne deliberately kept many aspects of Nemo and the Nautilus a secret?
  1. What is the meaning of the passage from Ecclesiastes “Who can fathom the depths of the abyss?” Do you think it’s valid for the Professor to claim that he and Nemo are the only men out of humanity who have a right to respond?