Through the Tunnel

by Doris Lessing
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What is Jerry's goal in "Through the Tunnel"?

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After his rejection by the older native boys in the wild bay, Jerry's goal is to accomplish what these boys have done by swimming through the underwater tunnel on his own. In this way, he can attain his own rite of passage.

After the embarrassing experience of the boys' abrupt departure in order to get away from him, Jerry cries openly since there is no one to witness his behavior. Afterwards, he vows to swim through the hole in the rock: "He would do it if it killed him." No longer does he want to be thought of as a child. Therefore, Jerry insists that his mother purchase some goggles so that he can see under water. 
Unbeknowst to his mother, Jerry returns to the wild bay and practices holding his breath. As he practices, Jerry's lungs grow stronger and he can stay under the water for longer periods of time. Finally, he finds the hole in the rock:

It was an irregular, dark gap; but he could not see deep into it....He knew he must find his way through that cave, or hole, or tunnel, and out the other side.

After painful hours of practice, holding his breath for longer and longer periods of time, Jerry attempts his rite of passage. He knows that he must go on into the blackness ahead, and soon finds himself bumping the narrowing walls of the tunnel. Still, he perseveres because he knows that if he does not, he will drown. After struggling in the darkness until it "cracked with an explosion of green light," Jerry's hands propel him out to sea. Out of the tunnel, Jerry removes his goggles, and after a while, he notices the local boys diving and playing.

He did not want them. He wanted nothing but to get back home and lie down.

When Jerry returns home his mother asks if he has had a "nice morning." "Oh, yes, thank you," Jerry replies. Then, he tells his mother that he can hold his breath for two or three minutes, but he does not mention his grand accomplishment. "It was no longer of the least importance to go to the bay" because Jerry has accomplished his rite of passage.  



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Jerry's immediate goal is simply to be able to swim through the tunnel, like the "big boys" can.  When he first began to swim with them, "He felt he was accepted, and he dived again, carefully, proud of himself."  However, once they began to dive off the rock and reappear on the other side, he sensed that they were doing something he wasn't capable of, and "in a panic of failure," he tried to get their attention.  After they left him, he resolved to learn to accomplish this feat.

However, Jerry's ultimate goal is to grow up.  He longs for independence, to be away from his mother's protective gaze.  His desire to go, alone, to the "wild bay" instead of the "safe beach" where he and his mother always go shows this.  Her concern that she might have been keeping him too close also shows us that Jerry is of an age where he should want, and be granted, more freedom.  As he works toward his goal of swimming through the tunnel, he begins to think of the safe beach as "a place for small children [...].  It was not his beach."  Such a statement helps to show how Jerry's immediate goal of swimming through the tunnel is connected to his larger goal of growing up.

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