The action in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea begins in New York in the spring of 1867 and finishes over a year later in northern Norway. The story carries its protagonists across the surface of the globe to the South Pole and back, and far down into the depths of the oceans. The Nautilus itself is the true Setting of the novel; it is the imaginative device that makes the action of the novel possible. Designed by Captain Nemo, the electrically powered Nautilus is two or three hundred feet long, capable of speeds far greater than surface ships of the day, and able to dive to great depths. It is large enough to contain a museum of oceanic research, a library, and even an organ, played by Nemo. The Nautilus’s crewmen are able to work underwater outside the ship, using devices that resemble aqualungs to harvest the fruits of the sea.

Equipped with huge windows sometimes protected by shields, the Nautilus allows the Characters to explore the unknown depths of the ocean from a dry and comfortable platform. But because Nemo has vowed never to return to the land, the Nautilus increasingly comes to resemble a prison for Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned Land, and a tomb for Nemo himself.

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