What are some examples of word choice that convey the setting in Doris Lessing's short story "Through the Tunnel"?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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One thing interesting about the setting in the short story "Through the Tunnel" is that author Doris Lessing carefully uses word choices to show the striking contrast between the beach and the enticing rocky bay, and the contrast helps set the mood of the story and develop the major theme.

In the beginning of the story, "the young English" boy does not show very much enthusiasm about taking the same vacation as usual with his mother. However, he begins to get interested when, walking along the path to the beach, his mother in front of him, he looks "down at a wild and rocky bay." Lessing's use of the term "wild" to describe the bay setting creates tension. We clearly see that the boy is captivated by the sight of the bay but also sense the bay may not be entirely safe. In addition, the term "rocky" helps to capture the rough surface of the bay, which further helps to characterize the bay as not being the safest area in the world.

In contrast to the "wild and rocky bay," the boy is heading with his mother towards the "crowded beach" he has already been familiar with for years now. As he follows his mother, he notes that she is "carrying a bright striped bag." Lessing's use of the word "crowded" helps to capture the civility of the beach. If it is crowded, it is obviously popular, and popular beaches contain nice, smooth sand and refreshing water that captivate society's civilized people. In addition, the adjectives "bright" and "striped" capture the cheerfulness and festivity that are characteristic of beach vacations.

However, the boy is not interested in civilization, brightness, or cheerfulness. Instead, he is interested in something new, exciting and adventurous. Hence, Lessing contrasts the description of the rocky bay setting with the crowded beach setting to establish the mood of the story and to foreshadow the dangerous adventures the boy is about to undertake. Plus, though his adventures threaten his health and life, they also show his maturity, which establishes the coming of age theme in the short story.