In "Through the Tunnel," what makes Jerry feel humiliated in front of the older boys?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While Jerry is on vacation with his mother, he swims out into the warm sea until his mother is but a yellow speck on the beach. After swimming back to her, Jerry sees some native boys whom he would like to join; when one waves, he moves toward them. However, as they realize he is a foreigner, "they proceeded to forget him." But, when Jerry dives as well as they, he is accepted.

However, Jerry's acceptance is short-lived as the daring boys dive into the deep-blue water and disappear for what seems a dangerous time until they re-appear. When Jerry plunges down into the dark water, he can see nothing; so he resurfaces; the boys are preparing another feat while Jerry has done nothing. Since they now ignore him, he commits a childish act that has always drawn his mother's attention: 

And now, in a panic of failure, he yelled up, in English. "Look at me! Look!" and he began splashing and kicking in the water like a foolish dog.

This act brings scorn upon him, rather than generating a humorous response. So, through "his hot shame," Jerry shouts in French, continuing further clownish actions. But, they ignore him and dive off the rock on which they have been standing.

It is this incident which makes Jerry aware of his immaturity; he desires acceptance from the older boys, so he watches what they do, and decides to practice until he, too, can execute this marvelous dive through the tunnel.


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