Through the Tunnel

by Doris Lessing

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Discussion Topic

Jerry's interactions and connections with the older boys in "Through the Tunnel."

Summary:

Jerry's interactions with the older boys in "Through the Tunnel" are marked by his desire for acceptance and admiration. Initially, he feels excluded and strives to gain their approval by attempting the dangerous feat of swimming through the underwater tunnel, which ultimately leads to a personal rite of passage and self-discovery, rather than external validation.

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In "Through the Tunnel," what role do the older boys play in Jerry's rite of passage?

The older boys that Jerry see at the wild beach play an important role in terms of firstly making Jerry aware that he is still a child and secondly showing him what he needs to do in order to grow up and become a man.

If we look at the story, when Jerry first goes to the wild beach, he greets the boys with "desperate, nervous supplication," wanting to fit in. Jerry views them as being "men," which furhter underscores the difference between himself and them. When, however, they dive through the tunnel and Jerry is unable to follow them, and Jerry responds by being silly and trying to make them laugh, note how they respond:

They looked down gravely, frowning. He knew the frown. At moments of failure, when he clowned to claim his mother's attention, it was with just this grave, embarrassed inspection that she rewarded him.

The boys thus highlight to Jerry how young he still is and reinforce his childlike state. They also, through the tunnel that they dive through, present him with the way of becoming "men" like they are and the means of how he can achieve his rite of passage and grow up.

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In "Through the Tunnel," what is important to Jerry when he first meets the older boys?

Jerry's primary concern is to be accepted by the boys, as he thinks:

"To be with them, of them, was a craving that filled his whole body."

This may be due to the seeming fact that Jerry does not appear to have many friends. He does not speak of any friends back home, and his mother's overprotectiveness may also be a contributing factor to his desire to be one of these seemingly free and independent boys.  The author demonstrates the mother's worry over her son by stating:

"She frowned, conscientiously worrying over what amusements he might seretly be longing for, which she had been too busy r too careless to imagine." 

Slightly further down in the introduction, we once again are privy to her thoughts:

"She was thinking, Of course he's old enough to be safe without me.  Have I been keeping him too close? He mustn't feel he ought to be with me. I must be careful."

This shows the likelihood that up until now, Jerry has been quite guarded by his mother, and thus lends to the idea that he probably has few friends, increasing his need to be accepted by the boys.

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In "Through the Tunnel," what activity does Jerry join the older boys in doing?

"Through the Tunnel" begins with Jerry obediently following his mother to the "safe beach," while he desires to be at the "wild and rocky bay." The next day, he ventures off by himself explaining to his mother that he would like to look at the rocks. As he swims alone, he spots his mother on the other beach and feels somewhat lonely.

Eventually, he notices some local boys running down to the rocks. They watch Jerry for a while, then wave him over. Once they discover that he is a "foreigner strayed from his own beach," they pay little attention to him. Nonetheless, Jerry is pleased to be with them.

Jerry joins the boys in diving between the rocks. Once he accomplishes this, they seem to accept him a little more. Eventually, the boys begin diving and remaining below the surface for what seems like a long time to Jerry. He realizes they must be passing through a hole in the rock beneath the surface, but he is unable to accomplish this task on his first attempts.

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In "Through the Tunnel," what activity does Jerry join the older boys in doing?

At first, Jerry is simply joining the older boys in swimming and diving off the rock jutting out into the water.  He hopes, simply, for acceptance from them: "To be with them, of them, was a craving that filled his whole body."  They seem like men to him and he longs to fit in.

However, they soon all dive off the rock and resurface, one by one, on the other side.  Jerry

understood that they had swum through some gap or hole in [the rock].  He plunged down again [....].  When he came up, the boys were all on the diving rock, preparing to attempt the feat again.

When they dive a second time, Jerry panics, sure that they are all dying somewhere below him as he counts higher and higher, but they all resurface again.  Jerry tries to reclaim the older boys' attention, before they swim away, and he realizes that "They were leaving to get away from him."  It is at this point that he begins to formulate a plan (beginning with his request for goggles) so that he, too, will be able to accomplish this feat.  

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

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

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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