abstract illustration of two people journeying around the world on trains, boats, and hot air balloons

Around the World in Eighty Days

by Jules Verne

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Themes and Meanings

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In one sense, Around the World in Eighty Days is merely a superbly well-written romance of travel adventure. The form is what has been called traditional: chronological time and a single third-person narrator throughout. Though there is some dialogue, the focus throughout is on the action. Though some delineation of customs is evident, it is so limited that it hardly interrupts the rapid flow of the narrative. There are glimpses of religious customs in India and Utah, for example, and of American political procedures, but they are not developed.

The plot has affinities to two earlier works: It is a combination of an odyssey and a quixotic quest. The journey is arduous, with many hardships, many adversaries, many obstacles, overcome only by almost superhuman feats. The quixotic element is seen especially in the fact that the journey need not have been taken at all: It results from a whim and a wager. As Quixote at the end of book 1 is safe at home, so is Fogg, both having arrived under ignominious circumstances. Neither has actually profited from the original purpose of his journey: Fogg has not gained monetarily; Quixote has not bettered the people or society he has set out to serve; in several instances, both have brought hardship on not only on themselves but also those they have befriended. Quixote has his sanity back, but his further quests are suggested in the closing passage; Jules Verne’s closing passage tells of Fogg’s prize, his wife.

Themes

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Speed and accuracy were ideals of the nineteenth century, an age where technology promised everything (the urban squalor, industrial pollution, and exploitation, cause by industrialization do not appear in Verne's early works). Man is in control of his machines, just as Phileas Fogg uses them to overcome all obstacles. It is the mastery of technology which is really what the whole journey is about. "After all, what did Fogg gain from his wager and efforts?" asks the author at the conclusion of his novel. "What had he brought back from this long and weary journey? Nothing, say you? Perhaps so, nothing but a charming woman who, strange as it may appear, made him the happiest of men!" But the reader knows that romance has not been the goal of the eccentric Englishman and that his pleasure lies in the accomplishment of what science had promised him, and which he had set out to prove.

Speed achieved by modern technology is more than the subject of an amusing bet. It is also productive. Like many of Verne's technological inventions, it promises a better quality of life. It allows travelers such as Fogg to visit parts of the world that had once taken interminable journeying. It allows more leisure, more time devoted to other pursuits, and in Fogg's case, it allows him to rescue Aouda in spite of his hurry. Although Around the World in Eighty Days is less scientific than most other of Verne's novels, but even when he writes to amuse, his admiration of modern technology comes through whenever the plot allows it. Traveling from San Francisco to New York, the tram on which Fogg and Passepartout are riding is stopped at the Medicine Bow creek because the bridge over the creek is considered unsafe. One of the passengers, an engineer named Forster, calls out:

'Gentlemen, perhaps there is a way, after all, to get over.' But the bridge is unsafe, urged the conductor. 'No matter,' replied Forster, 'I think that by putting on the very highest speed we might have a chance of getting over.'

Modern physics, applied to a practical situation, saves the day.

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