Through the Tunnel

by Doris Lessing

Start Free Trial

What's the contrast between the beach and the bay in "Through the Tunnel"?

Quick answer:

The contrast between the beach and the bay in "Through the Tunnel" is both literal and figurative. The beach is smooth, dry sand, while the bay has sharp, craggy rocks. The waves along the beach shore are mild, but the bay has deep sections and unpredictable currents. By extension, the beach stands for security and familiarity, while the bay represents insecurity and the unknown. These qualities are associated with family contrasted to strangers.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Doris Lessing’s story uses two contrasting environments to show the changes that a boy undergoes one summer. The contrast that she draws pertains both to the literal, physical environment and to the figurative, conceptual one. The beach is composed of smooth, sandy terrain. The bay’s environment is significant, because it is surrounded by rocks that are sharp and difficult or impossible to walk on. The quality of the water is also different in the two locales: the beach has mild waves suitable for wading, while the bay has uneven, often invisible depths that create currents.

The figurative meanings of the two environment are also quite different. The boy is familiar with the beach, where he and his mother have gone on holiday before. The bay has been out of reach and unknown. Likewise, he is with his mother on the beach, while strangers who are older boys frolic in the bay. Because it must be reached by the tunnel, the unknown bay also represents danger.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To begin, the beach is identified as "the safe beach"; it is the beach Jerry and his mother have always visited on holiday.  It is a place that he associates with his childhood, with safety, and with her protection. 

The bay, on the other hand, is "the wild bay," and, as Jerry drew nearer to it,

he saw that spread among small promontories and inlets of rough, sharp rock, and the crisping, lapping surface showed stains of purple and darker blue.  Finally as he ran sliding and scraping down the last few yards, he saw an edge of white surf and the shallow, luminous movement of water over white sand, and, beyond that, a solid, heavy blue.

Many of the word choices here carry a dangerous connotation: rough, sharp, stains of purple and darker blue (which sound like bruises!), scraping, edge, and heavy.  Many sound like words we associate with weapons or the injuries caused by them.  They all seem painful and damaging.  Further "rocks lay like discoloured monsters under the surface, and [...] irregular cold currents from the deep water shocked his limbs."  The mood associated with the wild bay is therefore very ominous: there are "monsters" under the water and cold currents to "shock" Jerry.  This sounds very unpleasant.

However, when he looks back at the safe beach, he sees his mother.  "There she was, a speck of yellow under and umbrella that looked like a slice of orange peel."  Instead of the dangerous and ominous imagery and word choices associated with the wild bay, the safe beach is characterized by citrus colors, colors we might normally associate with a carefree beach vacation.  It is very much a safe place compared to the dangers of the wild bay.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Through the Tunnel," how are the beach and the wild bay different?  

The beach Jerry has always visited with his mother is very much associated with childhood innocence; even the narrator refers to it as "the safe beach."  It is a place without danger where he is ultimately protected and watched over.  When he looks back on it from the water, the description of his mother is telling:

There she was, a speck of yellow under an umbrella that looked like a slice of orange peel.  He swam back to shore, relieved at being sure she was there, but all at once very lonely.

Sunny, cheerful colors of yellow and orange characterize that beach (and his mother).  It is bright and secure: a place he knows well.  

The "wild bay," on the other hand, is a place full of dangers.  The water itself shows "stains of purple and darker blue," underwater "rocks lay like discoloured monsters" beneath the surface, and "irregular cold currents from the deep water shocked his limbs."  This beach is full of hazards, the water perilous.  The connotation of words like "stains" and "monsters" is overwhelmingly negative, while the image of purple and blue stains sounds like a bruise.  Moreover, the shocking, cold currents are unpredictable and unpleasant as well.  If the safe beach is symbolic of childhood, then this rocky beach and its dangers are symbolic of adulthood and the transition into it.  Jerry is no longer protected as his mother cannot see him anymore.  He is alone and wholly responsible for himself here.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on