"Through the Tunnel" opens with a boy and his widowed mother vacationing at a beach resort to which they have come frequently. Because he has no father, Jerry's mother, perhaps, feels more protective of her son than a married woman would, yet she is "determined to be neither possessive nor lacking in devotion." And, while Jerry feels the loss of his father, he thinks that he must be more attentive to her, acting from an "unfailing impulse of contrition--a sense of guilt about his father's death?--a sort of chivalry." At any rate, they seem devoted to each other in their solitariness at this beach. For, when Jerry first swims out in the ocean a good ways, he searches for his mother on the beach:
There she was, a speck of yellow under and umbrella that looked like an orange peel.
On the other hand, his mother's devotion is divided between her maternal protectiveness--"Why, darling, would you rather not come with me?"--and her burgeoning understanding that eleven-year-old Jerry needs to be given some independence. For, after he asks her for swim goggles without giving an explanation, she
gave him a patient, inquisitive look as she said casually, "Well, of course, darling."
Yet, she still remains quite protective because she immediately becomes concerned when Jerry returns after successfully swimming through the tunnel, achieving his "rite of passage" to maturity. "How did you bang your head?" she asks, and when he dismisses this injury, Jerry's mother becomes "worried." However, the mother does begin to recognize Jerry's maturation as she says to herself, "Oh, don't fuss! Nothing can happen. He can swim like a fish." Still, she cautions him not to "overdo it." This recognition of the mother is reinforced by Jerry's feeling that his mother's warning is "no longer of the least importance." Clearly, their relationship has grown from protective mother and child to an understanding mother and maturing son.