Through the Tunnel by Doris Lessing

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Which details suggest that Jerry's quest has great significance?

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The relationship between Jerry and his mother, especially the details that remain unspoken between them, indicate that the quest, one which requires Jerry's separation from her, is a significant one.  Her conscientious "worrying over" what he wants to do, and his sense of "chivalry" toward her show the reader just how emotionally-loaded their relationship is.  She wants to give him an appropriate amount of freedom -- not so little that he resents her and not so much that it is dangerous -- and he wants her to be happy to the point that he feels "contrition" when he realizes that he has made her worry some more.  Their feelings indicate that Jerry is at an age that is extremely difficult for both parent and child: the coming-of-age age.

Further, the association of the "wild bay" with danger and maturity and the association of the "safe beach" with childhood and safety help us to know that Jerry is, perhaps, literally and figuratively out of his depth when he leaves the safe beach for the wild and rocky bay. This juxtaposition is another clue that Jerry's quest has great significance. At the bay, ominous descriptions of the stones that lay like "discoloured monsters" under the water's surface and the bruise-colored "stains of purple and darker blue" foreshadow the danger posed to Jerry by being left to fend for himself in this setting. Such foreshadowing also helps us to understand the significance of his time here.

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