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Jerry, a boy of eleven, has come to the shore with his mother. She is very protective of him, treating him as the little boy he has always been, although she is aware that he growing up and worries that she might be "keeping him too close." At their vacation site, the path divides, one way leading to the crowded, "safe" beach where they usually swim and the other leading to the "wild and rocky bay." Although he feels guilty for sending his mother along without him, Jerry longs to go alone to the bay. He wants to be "on his own."
It is at the "wild beach" by the bay that Jerry encounters the group of boys who come to play an important role in his young life. They are older than he, native to the setting, bronzed by the sun and free and confident. Jerry feels for a while that he belongs with them, and this makes him happy. When he cannot keep up with them, however, in their feat of swimming through the underwater tunnel, they leave Jerry, "to get away from him." Alone on the beach, he cries; after some time, he goes back to the "safe" beach to find his mother.
Jerry first seeks the wild beach in a desire to strike out on his own, to separate himself from his mother. After the incident with the other boys, he returns to the wild beach again and again, alone, preparing himself to swim through the tunnel. Jerry's need to conquer the tunnel represents his need to grow up, to act independently and to acquire the confidence and self-respect that come from accomplishment. Once he succeeds in swimming through the tunnel, he no longer feels the need to be with the other boys or to even show them what he can do: "He did not want them." He has no need to show off or prove himself to them. He does not need their approval or acceptance, since he now approves of himself and accepts himself. Jerry is no longer a little boy.
An interesting bit of information is found in his mother's concerns. Early in the text, she expresses he worries that perhaps she has been too overprotective with Jerry and wonders if she should ease up a bit. This shows the reader another reason why being accepted by the boys may be important to Jerry; if he is overprotected and sheltered it is possible that he does lack the maturity to be with these older boys, not to mention the possibility that this overprotectiveness may even limit his ability to have many friends at home, considering that he does not mention any.
The boys on the wild beach are somewhat older and are natives to this vacation spot. Jerry is an outsider who wants to be accepted by the boys represent maturity and friendship to him. These are things that Jerry, who is alone with his mother, lacks. When the boys rebuff him by swimming through the tunnel, Jerry takes this as a challenge. Instead of crying to his mother, Jerry bravely conditions his body until he, too, can go through the tunnel. This marks the beginning of maturity for the young boy. He realizes that he can do what the other boys can do and suddenly, their friendship isn't really all that important. He has faced and challenge and overcome a challenge without help from his mother or anyone else. This mark of maturity and independence is what Jerry needs in order to continue his journey into adulthood.
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