What is the main idea in Doris Lessing's short story, "Through the Tunnel"?

Expert Answers
Michael Otis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the short story, "Through the Tunnel," by Doris Lessing, the reader encounters a young English boy on vacation at a pivotal point of his life. Use of the third person omniscient point of view allows the narrator to make visible the central theme of the story: "Through the Tunnel" is primarily a rebirth narrative. In it, an 11 year-old boy makes the journey from boy to manhood, symbolically rendered by a perilous swim through an underwater tunnel. Three passages will serve to illustrate this. First, early in the story, as Jerry receives permission to venture down to the "wild-looking beach," his mother is described as thinking, "Of course he's old enough to be safe without me," and later, "Have I been keeping him too close? He mustn't feel he ought to be with me. I must be careful", the reader clearly understands that Jerry is about to engage in some rite of passage, alone, without interference from anyone, especially a parent. Second, the narrator describes the native youths diving and swimming through the submerged tunnel as "big boys - men to Jerry". The reader, clearly perceives with Jerry that birth into the adult world involves swimming through the underwater tunnel as do the native 'men'. Third, the narrator concludes the description of the boy's passage through the tunnel with these words: "He felt he was dying. He was no longer quite conscious. He struggled on in the darkness between lapses into unconsciousness". The reader clearly perceives that it is the author's intention to depict this rite of passage as a terrifying, possibly lethal journey, analogous through the powerful symbolism of the tunnel, to the passage of a newborn through the mother's birth canal.