Through the Tunnel

by Doris Lessing

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How is Jerry connected to the other boys in "Through the Tunnel"?

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This is a really interesting question because an initial snap judgement might say that Jerry and the boys are not connected. They share no dialogue with each other (because they speak different languages), and their physical time together is very minimal. Jerry is on vacation with his mother, and he asks if he can head over toward some rocks and the local beach. She reluctantly agrees, and Jerry comes across some local boys. He desperately wants to be with them. We aren't sure why it is so important to Jerry, but he definitely wants to be a part of the group of young adventurous boys.

They were of that coast; all of them were burned smooth dark brown and speaking a language he did not understand. To be with them, of them, was a craving that filled his whole body. He swam a little closer; they turned and watched him with narrowed, alert dark eyes. Then one smiled and waved. It was enough. In a minute, he had swum in and was on the rocks beside them, smiling with a desperate, nervous supplication. They shouted cheerful greetings at him;

The native boys figure out that Jerry is a foreign visitor, but they do let Jerry swim with them. Jerry is proud.

He dived, and they watched him; and when he swam around to take his place, they made way for him. He felt he was accepted and he dived again, carefully, proud of himself.

Eventually, the boys dive down and through a tunnel, and Jerry simply can't make the swim. The boys never rejoin Jerry, and he feels saddened by their departure and his own failure. That's it for the physical and visual connection between Jerry and the boys; however, that is not what is most important about the interaction. The entire episode serves as a motivator for Jerry to train and push himself hard over the next week to make that swim. Without those boys, Jerry's coming of age story wouldn't have happened. He accomplished a monumental feat. He attained a goal for himself and gained some independence in his abilities, and he's a changed boy by the end.

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The only connection Jerry has to these boys comes from the fact that he was swimming at their regular beach.  When his mother went off to the touristy beach that she and Jerry used to both visit on earlier vacations, Jerry went to the "wild bay" where some older, local boys shortly came to play.  They were old enough that they seemed like men to Jerry, and he ardently wished to be accepted by them.  When they began to swim through the tunnel in the rock, he panicked that he could no longer keep up (and thus fit in) with them, and he began to clown around in a feeble and childish attempt to retain their attention.  After seeing this behavior, the boys left him behind and went away, wounding his pride and causing him to cry.  This experience prompted Jerry to spend the remainder of his vacation training to swim through the tunnel that the boys had already conquered.

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