Through the Tunnel

by Doris Lessing
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What are some examples of word choice that convey the setting in Doris Lessing's short story "Through the Tunnel"?

Examples of word choice that convey the setting in Doris Lessing's short story "Through the Tunnel" include imagery of the "rough, sharp rock" and the "anchor of stone" under which the tunnel is located.

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Word choice is an instrumental technique that Lessing employs in "Through the Tunnel" to heighten the suspenseful mood of the story.

Although the action is set on a beach, the area where Jerry dives is portrayed as anything but the safe and relaxing beach where his mother rests. While her beach is safe enough for young children, the word choice used to depict the area of the cave is ominous. There are "inlets of rough, sharp rock," and the "rocks lay like discolored monsters under the surface." He watches the group of boys dive "between rough, pointed rocks," and after they leave him, Jerry sits on the diving rock and feels the "hot roughness of it under his thighs." When Jerry finds the spot which contains the tunnel, he compares the area to an "anchor of stone" and describes the tunnel as an "irregular, dark gap; but he could not see deep into it."

Jerry uses this opportunity to separate himself from his mother's protective reach, and he is willing to face the wild and dangerous aspects of nature in order to prove himself capable of independence. The word choice in the story establishes the particular dangers of this independence, and those efforts are filled with blood loss as Jerry battles the sea and rocks to achieve his goal. The word choice describing his setting conveys the seriousness of Jerry's intentions and the inherent dangers involved in emerging from childhood and entering a world full of wildly dangerous possibilities.

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On the surface, one might assume that this is a story about a young boy's beach vacation with his mother as he is on the cusp of manhood. But Lessing quickly draws a distinction between the "wild bay" and the "safe beach" described at the end of the first paragraph. When Jerry gets to go to the "wild bay" without his mother, the narrator describes how he must run "sliding and scraping" over the "rough, sharp rock[s]" leading to the water. The surface of the water shows "stains of purple and darker blue" (which sound like bruises) and in the water itself, "rocks lay like discolored monsters." These descriptions help to convey the setting of Jerry's underwater exploits in the wild bay and the negative—even dangerous—connotations of the words used also convey the mood of the story as well.

The "safe beach," however, seems so innocent and childish. Jerry looks back from his bay at his mother: "There she was, a speck of yellow under an umbrella that looked like a slice of orange peel." This description connotes such positivity, the kind of details we expect from a beach vacation: bright colors and citrus fruits. Descriptions like these allow us to understand the two beaches as they are juxtaposed—how they are different and why Jerry would prefer one to another.

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One thing interesting about the setting in the short story "Through the Tunnel" is that author Doris Lessing carefully uses word choices to show the striking contrast between the beach and the enticing rocky bay, and the contrast helps set the mood of the story and develop the major theme.

In the beginning of the story, "the young English" boy does not show very much enthusiasm about taking the same vacation as usual with his mother. However, he begins to get interested when, walking along the path to the beach, his mother in front of him, he looks "down at a wild and rocky bay." Lessing's use of the term "wild" to describe the bay setting creates tension. We clearly see that the boy is captivated by the sight of the bay but also sense the bay may not be entirely safe. In addition, the term "rocky" helps to capture the rough surface of the bay, which further helps to characterize the bay as not being the safest area in the world.

In contrast to the "wild and rocky bay," the boy is heading with his mother towards the "crowded beach" he has already been familiar with for years now. As he follows his mother, he notes that she is "carrying a bright striped bag." Lessing's use of the word "crowded" helps to capture the civility of the beach. If it is crowded, it is obviously popular, and popular beaches contain nice, smooth sand and refreshing water that captivate society's civilized people. In addition, the adjectives "bright" and "striped" capture the cheerfulness and festivity that are characteristic of beach vacations.

However, the boy is not interested in civilization, brightness, or cheerfulness. Instead, he is interested in something new, exciting and adventurous. Hence, Lessing contrasts the description of the rocky bay setting with the crowded beach setting to establish the mood of the story and to foreshadow the dangerous adventures the boy is about to undertake. Plus, though his adventures threaten his health and life, they also show his maturity, which establishes the coming of age theme in the short story.

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