Through the Tunnel

by Doris Lessing

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Critical Overview

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Lessing published "Through the Tunnel" in her 1957 collection, The Habit of Loving. The collection received praise for both its political commitment and its often brutal honesty. Lessing has frequently been lauded for her feminist sensibility and political approach to subjects like apartheid, but she has consistently denied that she is a political or feminist writer. Resistant to categorization, she finds such labels limiting and has actively sought to diversify her identity as a writer, experimenting and expanding into other genres like science fiction and Jung-inspired "inner space fiction." Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer has praised Lessing's experimentation with form and plotlessness. Lessing's career has also been distinguished by her lifetime commitment to the short story. Whereas many successful writers turn solely to the more lucrative and more commonly respected form of the novel, Lessing has consistently excelled at both novels and short stories. Critics have often commented on the symbiotic relationship between her short stories and her novels.

"Through the Tunnel" has generally been identified as one of Lessing's African stories, and one of several she has written that allude to the racial tensions underlying tourism. The story has often been noted in relation to Lessing's many stories on female rites of passage into womanhood. While many of Lessing's stories and novels depict women entering adulthood, her concentration on young Jerry's rite of passage in "Through the Tunnel" is atypical and an interesting contrast to her female characters who seem to have a much more complicated induction into adulthood.

Writer Joan Didion, in The White Album, writes that Lessing "register[s], in a torrent of fiction that increasingly seems conceived in a stubborn rage against the very idea of fiction, every tremor along her emotional fault system." Such intense impressions and praise of Lessing's work are not uncommon. To many, her honesty strains to transcend artifice, "the very idea of fiction." Many appreciate her ability to convey raw, vivid emotions and truths through the most carefully crafted prose. While Lessing's writings during the 1970s and 1980s received sometimes mixed reviews, earlier pieces like "Through the Tunnel" continue to be enjoyed and respected by critics and popular audiences alike.

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Essays and Criticism