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 his 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, who became 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 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, to swim under the water and pass through some type of gap, re-emerging far on the other side. This act, then, becomes Jerry's ultimate rite of passage to maturity, an act with which he becomes consumed. He tells his mother that he needs swimming goggles, then he practices to develop his lung capacity. Finally, he makes his attempt at passing through the tunnel and 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 succeeded and proven that he, too, is a big boy.
"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 being a boy to being a "big boy," capable and gaining independence.