In "Through the Tunnel," what is the symbolism of these settings: the wild beach, the safe beach, and the tunnel?
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In Doris Lessing's "Through the Tunnel", the two beaches symbolize the two parts of Jerry that are in conflict. The safe beach, where his mother relaxes, represents the safety and maternal protection Jerry experienced as a child. The wild beach represents the part of Jerry that wishes to break away from his mother's sheltering watch and become more independent. It is at the wild beach that he sees the boys swimming through an underwater tunnel, and he decides to prove himself so that he can feel a sense of "belonging" to a group of peers, even though he never actually joins in with them. He sees what they can do, and he challenges himself, through intense self-training, to be like them. The tunnel represents Jerry's Rite of Passage as he moves from childhood toward becoming more independent.
A coming-of-age story, Doris Lessing's "Through the Tunnel" employs three major symbols to connote Jerry's state of being and his rite of passage. In the exposition of the narrative, as Jerry is with his mother at the "usual beach" which they frequent when they come on vacation, he looks over his shoulder at the wild bay, an action representing his growing desire to expand horizons. Jerry's mother asks him, "Are you tired of the usual beach, Jerry?" Thus, it is apparent to Jerry's mother that her son wishes to "stretch his wings" and exert some independence by going to the wild-looking beach.
Then, when Jerry does swim out to the rocks and the wild bay, he leaves the protection of his mother--a "speck of yellow under an umbrella." When he sees the native boys, free in their nakedness, diving and swimming, Jerry envies them, and he craves their company. But, they are "big boys" and they reject his childish antics in the water to get their attention:
"Look at me! Look! and he began splashing and kicking in the water like a foolish dog.
After this rejection, Jerry desires to do what the older boys have done; that is, swim under the water and pass through some type of gap or hole, re-emerging far on the other side. This act, then, becomes the rite of passage to maturity; it is an act with which Jerry becomes consumed. He tells his mother that he needs swim goggles; then, he practices to develop his lung capacity. Finally, he makes his attempt at passing through the tunnel, struggles, feeling that he is dying as he loses oxygen. But, at last, Jerry succeeds. "He did not want them. He wanted nothing but to get back home and lie down." Jerry has proven that he, too, is an adult.
"safe beach" - the beach of Jerry's boyhood, safe with his mother nearby.
"wild beach" - the unknown, the future that awaits the boy Jerry
"tunnel" - the passage from boyhood to adolescence and young adulthood
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