Through the Tunnel

by Doris Lessing

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Breakthroughs Jerry achieves in "Through the Tunnel."

Summary:

In "Through the Tunnel," Jerry achieves several breakthroughs, including successfully holding his breath for over two minutes and swimming through the underwater tunnel. These accomplishments mark his transition from childhood to adolescence, demonstrating his determination, bravery, and growing independence.

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What breakthroughs does Jerry achieve in "Through the Tunnel"?

In Doris Lessing's short story, "Through the Tunnel," Jerry, an eleven-year old boy, and his widowed mother go on a seaside vacation. It is during this vacation that Jerry discovers his own identity and learns to accept himself for who he is.

At the onset of the story, Jerry goes to the safe beach with his mother, yet he continually longs for the "wild and rocky bay." When he finally ventures to the bay, he meets a group of local boys. These boys are wild and free as some of them begin "stripping off their clothes." Jerry perceives these boys as men and longs for their acceptance, which he does not gain. Ironically, even though he wants to be part of their group and grown-up, when he swims far out, he searches for his mother on the beach, "a speck of yellow under an umbrella." Jerry is still a child.

However, Jerry watches the local boys swim through a tunnel, holding their breath longer than Jerry could ever imagine. Swimming through the tunnel becomes Jerry's challenge. He trains himself to hold his breath, and by the end of the story, he manages the feat. It has required pain and the loss of blood, a symbol of the price he has to pay to grow-up. Through this rite of passage, Jerry literally swims through the tunnel from childhood to manhood. He no longer needs the acceptance of the other boys; he accepts himself for who he is. This is his breakthrough.

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What breakthroughs does Jerry achieve in "Through the Tunnel"?

On a basic level, Jerry has accomplished the physical feat he set out to complete. He has conditioned himself to be able to hold his breath for several minutes and overcome his fears to swim through the tunnel in the rock: an unbelievably dangerous and difficult thing.

Further, Jerry no longer craves the acceptance of the older, local boys with whom he so much wanted to fit when he first went to the wild bay. This is pretty significant. He attempted such a dangerous feat because they were doing it, and he felt childish and rejected when he could not do it before. However, he no longer links this experience to their recognition of him as an equal. This lack of concern for what they think is an achievement, as it shows the maturation that has resulted from Jerry's dangerous experience. He has also developed the ability to delay gratification, something he couldn't do at the beginning (consider his behavior when he wanted goggles). But now, he's developed "A curious, most unchildlike persistence, a controlled patience," and this is definitely the sign of a mature person.

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What breakthroughs has Jerry achieved by the end of "Through the Tunnel"?

In getting to the point where he is able to swim through the tunnel, Jerry has vastly improved his feelings about himself and he has greatly reduced his dependence on his mother.

When the story starts, he has very little self-confidence at all.  You can see this in how he acts all stupid trying to make the local kids notice him.  Even up to the last minute, Jerry is not really sure of himself. He is really planning not to try the swim, but all of a sudden he decides to do it.

Once he manages to swim through the tunnel, however, he is much more sure of himself.  He has no need for the local boys.  And he does not even have to argue with his mother.

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What breakthroughs has Jerry achieved by the end of "Through the Tunnel"?

With the points to consider that you've listed, you've pretty much answered your own question concerning "Through the Tunnel."  Jerry makes breakthroughs in all three areas you mention:

Jerry no longer has to prove himself.  He's already done it.  When his mother tells him at the end of the story that she doesn't think he ought to swim any more that day, she expects him to resist, but he doesn't.

She was ready for a battle of wills, but he gave in at once.  It was no longer of the least importance to go to the bay.

He's already proven to himself what needs to be proven.

Jerry makes a breakthrough concerning the tunnel when he swims through it.  He pays a great price for doing so (major nose bleeding), but he survives and makes it through the tunnel.

As far as his dependence on his mother, all of the responsibility it took for Jerry to train himself to swim through the tunnel is his own.  His mother knew nothing about it.  Of course, one could argue that she should have, and what he did was extremely dangerous for a boy his age.  But as the story is, Jerry shows great intensity of purpose in his preparations for swimming through the tunnel.  Any boy that can accomplish what Jerry does cannot be accused of being overly dependent on his mother.

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What breakthroughs has Jerry achieved by the story's end?Consider: the tunnel, his feelings about himself, & his dependence on his mother.

By the end of the story Jerry has gone through a journey from childhood to manhood, symbolised most stridently in his journey through the tunnel.

At the beginning of the story we are introduced to a character who is on the cusp of adolescense, and very clearly feels responsible for his mother due to their enforced intimacy. Yet despite his feelings of responsibility towards his mother, he nonetheless feels drawn to the "wild beach", which is away from the "safe beach" and his mother's attentive care. The wild beach here can be said to symbolise independence and life away from the protection of a parent figure - note how Lessing describes the two beaches to draw out this comparison.

His discovery of the tunnel and the challenge that the French boys set him through swimming through the tunnel spur Jerry on to train hard and eventually succeed in his attempt to go through the tunnel. Although certainly at the beginning of the story it is Jerry's need to be accepted by the older group of French boys that drives his desire to go through the tunnel, it is interesting that at the end of the story he no longer feels this is the case, as he is happy to go back home and spend time with his mother. This indicates that the tunnel was more about a process of self-acceptance and doing something to show he could do it for himself rather than for any other reason.

His relationship with his mother likewise has changed by the end of the story. Jerry deliberately witholds his triumph, only relating his ability to hold his breath. The dramatic irony in his mother's response ("I wouldn't overdo it, dear") indicates the independence that Jerry has achieved in his journey through the tunnel - he has now entered an arena where he has secrets from his mother and is able to engage in activities, dangerous activies, away from his mother's protection.

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