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. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

On the surface, one might assume that this is a story about a young boy's beach vacation with his mother as he is on the cusp of manhood. But Lessing quickly draws a distinction between the "wild bay" and the "safe beach" described at the end of the first paragraph. When Jerry gets to go to the "wild bay" without his mother, the narrator describes how he must run "sliding and scraping" over the "rough, sharp rock[s]" leading to the water. The surface of the water shows "stains of purple and darker blue" (which sound like bruises) and in the water itself, "rocks lay like discolored monsters." These descriptions help to convey the setting of Jerry's underwater exploits in the wild bay and the negative—even dangerous—connotations of the words used also convey the mood of the story as well.

The "safe beach," however, seems so innocent and childish. Jerry looks back from his bay at his mother: "There she was, a speck of yellow under an umbrella that looked like a slice of orange peel." This description connotes such positivity, the kind of details we expect from a beach vacation: bright colors and citrus fruits. Descriptions like these allow us to understand the two beaches as they are juxtaposed—how they are different and why Jerry would prefer one to another.