Through the Tunnel Questions and Answers
by Doris Lessing

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What do the tunnels symbolize for the young boy, and why does he decide that he will have to swim the tunnel?

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Lessing's "Through the Tunnel," the bay is and represents something the boy isn't supposed to do or can't do; it is something the older boys can do, and the boy wants to do.  The bay is basically a rite of passage.  Or, more specifically, swimming through the tunnel in the bay is all of the above. 

Notice that once he's done it, once he's accomplished his goal, he is in no hurry to go back.  He's done it, he's made it, he's proved himself, he's matured.  He's proven he belongs. 

He begins...

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mkcapen1 | Student

The tunnel symbolizes the passage from boyhood to manhood.  Jerry has tried to get through it and could not do it.  He is aware that unless he accomplishes getting through it he will feel defeated.  He knows that the other boys could do it. 

Males tend to be competitive during adolescence especially.  Jerry sees himself in a type of self competition.  He has to prove to himself that he can and will get through the tunnel.  Going through the tunnel is scary for Jerry and it is a fear he knows that he has to face now or never.