Through the Tunnel

by Doris Lessing

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How does Jerry prepare for his swim through the tunnel in "Through the Tunnel"?

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Jerry practices for his rite of passage through the tunnel by conditioning himself to be able to hold his breath. He obtains swims goggles and practices going underwater and finding the tunnel so that he will know exactly where it is when he swims through it.

Jerry is an eleven-year-old...

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English boy who goes on holiday with his mother on the coast of Africa. He is at that age between childhood and the teen years, an age at which a young person wants to be perceived as less a child and more as a young adult. Realizing this, his mother allows Jerry, who is a good swimmer, to go to the big beach, where there are great rocks. So, once he sees that his mother is on her beach, Jerry hurries the last few yards and rushes straight into the water where he starts swimming.
After he watches the native boys diving down off the rocks, Jerry clowns in the water, hoping they will accept him. But, they ignore him until Jerry shouts a warning. Then, they "looked at him idly and turned their eyes back toward the water." After a while Jerry realizes that the boys are swimming through some gap or hole in a huge rock. He dives below the water to try to find the passage that they have used, but he cannot hold his breath long enough. Soon, he returns to the villa, and immediately when his mother arrives, Jerry demands swimming goggles. He pleads and nags until his mother takes him to a store and buys the goggles.

Jerry now practices holding his breath, but when his nose bleeds at night, his mother orders him to go with her to the old beach. On the following day, Jerry rushes out early and returns to the new beach. The day's rest has helped him hold his breath longer, and he does better. He practices if everything, the whole of his life, all that he would become, depended upon it.

He dives down repeatedly until he finds the opening to the tunnel and he tries to find the opening in the rock until "he shot his feet out forward and they met no obstacle."

One day his mother announces that they will leave in four days, and Jerry decides that he will try to swim through the tunnel before he goes home. But when his nose bleeds badly, Jerry decides he will wait until he is older. Suddenly, though, he looks down into the water and decides "this was the moment when he would try."

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How does Jerry learn about the tunnel in the short story "Through the Tunnel"? How does he prepare himself to meet the challenge of swimming through it? 

Jerry is the eleven-year old protagonist of Doris Lessing's short story "Through the Tunnel." It is a coming of age story as the boy challenges himself physically. He's an English boy who is on vacation with his mother, probably in Spain. The reader can assume he's not in England because the boys he encounters in the bay are speaking a foreign language. When he sees them diving from one section of the rocks and emerging on the other side, his interest is stimulated. They are obviously using an underwater tunnel to swim from one side to the other.

He makes it his goal to swim through the tunnel during his short vacation. He watches the boys and counts to himself to see how long it takes them. He counts to 160, which Jerry believes to be about two minutes. Everyday he goes to the bay and practices holding his breath. Even though he fears what might happen to him if he makes the underwater swim, he is obsessive about his training. He submerges himself with a large stone and attempts to sit on the bottom of the bay a little longer each time. On his first attempt he can only get to 50 and then experiences a bad nose bleed. He is persistent, however, and practices relentlessly until he knows he only has a few days left in his vacation.

He ultimately succeeds in his quest to swim the tunnel despite almost losing consciousness and again bleeding from his nose. 

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