Through the Tunnel

by Doris Lessing

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Describe Jerry's age and family situation in "Through the Tunnel."

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The protagonist of Doris Lessing's story, Jerry, is an eleven-year-old English boy at the threshold of puberty whose father has died, leaving him as the only child of his widowed mother.

On holiday with his mother at a foreign seaside resort, Jerry vacillates between wishing to join his mother at their customary beach and desiring to go to the wild bay and explore it because he is at an awkward age. When he tries to join the foreign boys who are older than he, they reject him as childish because he acts silly, splashing the water and calling out, "Look at me! Look!" as he kicks in the water "like a splashing dog."

His venture to this wild bay proves to be a rite of passage for Jerry, though, because he strives to achieve what the older boys have done. Secretly, he practices holding his breath and diving down to the underwater tunnel. He demands swim goggles, and his considerate mother purchases them for him. Finally, Jerry is successful at passing through the tunnel in the large rocks. Now, he no longer wants the other boys.

Once back at the villa, Jerry feels his new sense of maturity as he responds to his mother's questions:

"Have a nice morning?"
"Oh, yes, thank you," he said.
"You look a bit pale....How did you bang your head?"
"Oh, just banged it...."
"Mummy,....I can stay under water for two minutes--three minutes, at least." It came bursting out of him.
"Can you, darling?....Well, I shouldn't overdo it. I don't think you ought to swim any more today."

Having made his rite of passage, it is no longer important to Jerry to go to the bay. He has proven to himself that he, too, can swim through the rock tunnels.

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Jerry is described as "the young English boy" in the first line of the story, but the narrator later specifies that he is eleven years-old.  He is at an age where he is still impulsive and childlike at times, still longing for his mother's approval; however, he also very much desires increased independence and freedom from his mother.  We learn that his mother is intensely aware of this as she worries over his safety without her but tries to reassure herself that he's old enough to be alone.  She doesn't want to smother him with her affection and attention, but she also doesn't want to give him more freedom than he can handle. 

As far as his family situation, Jerry is an only child, and his mother is a widow.  This likely increases his mother's concern, that she has to be both mother and father to Jerry and has no one to consult with about his development into an adult.

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