Through the Tunnel

by Doris Lessing

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Discussion Topic

Jerry's goal and most grown-up action in "Through the Tunnel."

Summary:

Jerry's goal in "Through the Tunnel" is to swim through an underwater tunnel, which symbolizes his desire for independence and maturity. His most grown-up action is his determination and perseverance to train and accomplish this challenging feat, despite the physical and mental obstacles he faces.

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What is Jerry's goal in "Through the Tunnel"?

After his rejection by the older native boys in the wild bay, Jerry's goal is to accomplish what these boys have done by swimming through the underwater tunnel on his own. In this way, he can attain his own rite of passage.

After the embarrassing experience of the boys' abrupt departure in order to get away from him, Jerry cries openly since there is no one to witness his behavior. Afterwards, he vows to swim through the hole in the rock: "He would do it if it killed him." No longer does he want to be thought of as a child. Therefore, Jerry insists that his mother purchase some goggles so that he can see under water. 
Unbeknowst to his mother, Jerry returns to the wild bay and practices holding his breath. As he practices, Jerry's lungs grow stronger and he can stay under the water for longer periods of time. Finally, he finds the hole in the rock:

It was an irregular, dark gap; but he could not see deep into it....He knew he must find his way through that cave, or hole, or tunnel, and out the other side.

After painful hours of practice, holding his breath for longer and longer periods of time, Jerry attempts his rite of passage. He knows that he must go on into the blackness ahead, and soon finds himself bumping the narrowing walls of the tunnel. Still, he perseveres because he knows that if he does not, he will drown. After struggling in the darkness until it "cracked with an explosion of green light," Jerry's hands propel him out to sea. Out of the tunnel, Jerry removes his goggles, and after a while, he notices the local boys diving and playing.

He did not want them. He wanted nothing but to get back home and lie down.

When Jerry returns home his mother asks if he has had a "nice morning." "Oh, yes, thank you," Jerry replies. Then, he tells his mother that he can hold his breath for two or three minutes, but he does not mention his grand accomplishment. "It was no longer of the least importance to go to the bay" because Jerry has accomplished his rite of passage.  

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What is Jerry's goal in "Through the Tunnel"?

Jerry's immediate goal is simply to be able to swim through the tunnel, like the "big boys" can.  When he first began to swim with them, "He felt he was accepted, and he dived again, carefully, proud of himself."  However, once they began to dive off the rock and reappear on the other side, he sensed that they were doing something he wasn't capable of, and "in a panic of failure," he tried to get their attention.  After they left him, he resolved to learn to accomplish this feat.

However, Jerry's ultimate goal is to grow up.  He longs for independence, to be away from his mother's protective gaze.  His desire to go, alone, to the "wild bay" instead of the "safe beach" where he and his mother always go shows this.  Her concern that she might have been keeping him too close also shows us that Jerry is of an age where he should want, and be granted, more freedom.  As he works toward his goal of swimming through the tunnel, he begins to think of the safe beach as "a place for small children [...].  It was not his beach."  Such a statement helps to show how Jerry's immediate goal of swimming through the tunnel is connected to his larger goal of growing up.

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What is Jerry's goal in the story "Through the Tunnel"?

Jerry's immediate goal is to be able to swim through the tunnel in the rock.  He finally has the nerve to separate from his mother and spend some time alone at the "wild bay" instead of the "safe beach."  At the bay, he encounters a group of local boys who dive and swim so surely; they are "big boys -- men to Jerry" and "To be with them, of them, was a craving that filled his whole body."  He so badly wants to feel as though he is their equal that when he realizes that they can swim through a tunnel in the rock, he resolves to be able to accomplish the same feat, and he spends the rest of his vacation practicing in order to be able to do it.

On a figurative level, however, what Jerry wants is to be an adult.  He seems to already feel that he is the man of his family because his mother is a widow, and he feels such responsibility and obligation to her.  He wants to fit in with the boys because he perceives them as men, and he wants to be one.  The maturity that Jerry shows as he practices helps to show that he is, in fact, growing up.  He isn't the childish person who accosted his mother for goggles; he has become someone who can control his impulses.  Despite the fact that he seems to revert somewhat at the end of the story, it is clear that Jerry has matured and will have no choice but to continue to do so.

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What is Jerry's most grown-up action in "Through The Tunnel"?

After completing his "rite of passage" by swimming through the tunnel victoriously, Jerry has established his maturity first with his daring and diligent practice that has led to his victory.  Previously, his "chivalry" to his mother has involved an "unfailing impulse of contrition"as he runs after her to accompany her to the safer beach; however, after being around the daring boys who have disapproved of him, Jerry has become their equal by performing the same feat as they.

When he emerges from the deep waters after successfully passing through the underwater tunnel, Jerry perceives these local boys as they dive and play in the distance. However, he did not want them" because he, too, is now mature.  Instead, he returns to his mother and has lunch with her, telling her only that he can remain under water for two or three minutes.  Characteristically, his mother is "ready for a battle of wills," but Jerry no longer needs to fight for his independence with her: "It was no longer of the least importance to go to the bay." Now, since he has established himself as a young man with his act of daring, Jerry's second act of maturity is evinced in this thought, and it is his most grown up act of all. For, confident in himself, Jerry is no longer threatened by his mother's attempts to protect him.

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