What physical challenges does Jerry face in Doris Lessing's short story "Through the Tunnel"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Rather than go to the beach where he and his mother usually go, Jerry is drawn to a different rocky location. Even to reach that bay, he has to climb over sharp rocks that scrape his feet. Looking down into the dark water, he thinks the rocks look like monsters....

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Rather than go to the beach where he and his mother usually go, Jerry is drawn to a different rocky location. Even to reach that bay, he has to climb over sharp rocks that scrape his feet. Looking down into the dark water, he thinks the rocks look like monsters. The physical challenges are coupled with his fear and anxiety. As Jerry watches the other boys, at first he misunderstands their antics. Once he realizes that they are swimming through an underwater passage, he determines to do the same.

Far more than scratching his feet on the rocks or avoiding the rocks when he dives in, Jerry's physical energies must be directed toward coordinating his breath with his swimming motions. Much of the preparation involves increasing his stamina in regard to breath; he practices by holding his breath for longer periods and then tries it again underwater. Protecting his eyes is also necessary, so he gets his mother to buy him goggles.

One of the most difficult aspects, however, is the discipline of repetition. Every day, Jerry repeats his steps and adds a bit more difficulty. When he finally decides to complete his self-appointed task, he is not sure he is ready but plunges ahead; the narrow tunnel requires not only swimming but the ability to pull himself along the rock with his arms. The success of the huge effort leaves him satisfied.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jerry takes on the big physical challenge of swimming through a tunnel in the rock promontory at the wild bay which he visits without his mother. He sees a number of older, local boys doing it. "They were big boys—men, to Jerry," and he is desperate to be able to perform the feat, as they seem to do it so easily, and he wants to fit in with them. The first step to overcoming this physical challenge is getting goggles because "the salt was so painful in his eyes" when he opened them underwater. Next, he understands that he will have to be able to hold his breath for a count of at least "a hundred and sixty" because that's how high he counted while the older boys swam the tunnel. So he begins to practice: "He was incredulous and then proud to find he could hold his breath without strain for two minutes." He continues to work and push himself until, one day, "his nose bled so badly that he turned dizzy" and almost decided to stop for the day. However, he has a sense that it's now or never, as they say: "If he did not do it now, he never would."

Once inside the tunnel, he must adjust to the water pushing him upward by "pull[ing] himself along with his hands—fast, fast—and us[ing] his legs as levers." He is dizzied by sharp pains, his head pulses, and it's not long before he reaches "the end of what he could do." And yet, he must continue: "His head was swelling, his lungs cracking." He does finally make it, of course, and he discovers that he's not interested in joining the local boys anymore.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jerry simply has to swim long and hard enough underwater to make it to the other side before coming up for air. As the tunnel has no air holes along the way, this is a "win all/lose" all situation.

Swimming through the underwater tunnel is a challenge Jerry is taking on in secret. He has nothing to prove to anybody except himself.

Risk taking is not really so rare during puberty and adolescence, though, and some psychologists consider it a natural and even necessary part of the maturing process. The problem is that danger is very real and uncompromising: some kids push themselves too far and die or seriously injure themselves by taking on a foolish "dare."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team