Through the Tunnel

by Doris Lessing

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What physical and mental "tortures" does Jerry undergo and what is their significance?

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Jerry's physical and mental "tortures" are mostly self-imposed, as he embarkes on a dangerous rite of passage during he and his mother's summer stay on the beach. They are on the coast of a foriegn country. Jerry seeks the companionship of the native boys, most of whom are a bit...

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older than he. His lack of French-speaking ability alienates him and creates an intense loneliness that nearly makes him sick. The torture of alienation and lonileness is furthered by his bawling out at the other boys in English, which they interpret as childlike and immature. Some critics have noted that Jerry's yearning for acceptance within this group of boys belies an internal psychological torture of approaching manhood without a father figure. Jerry's father died when he was younger, thus he faces the precipice of manhood without the aid of a male protector or role model. Jerry experiences mental torturs as he pushes himself to prepare for swimming across the tunnel. His nose bleeds constantly, causing pain, discomfort and uncertainty. Jerry isn't sure he'll be able to train his lungs to hold his breath long enough to swim through the tunnel. The biggest physical challenge comes the day he actually gives it a try. Halfway through the tunnel is is struck with a feeling of intense panic as his lungs almost give way. He feels lightheaded and struggles to keep control of his body. However, Jerry survives these challenges with a new sense of confidence and autonomy. As he and his mother retun home, he notes with pride that he can hold his breath for a at least three minutes. Jerry has entered a new phase of his life equipped with the knowledge that he can overcome great obstacles through perserverance and determination.
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What physical and mental “tortures” does Jerry go through?  

Jerry's psychological challenge begins with the conflict he feels for wanting to assert more independence and concern for his mother's happiness, since she is a widow and he is her only child. He feels guilt over the natural desire to explore the world on his own and leave his mother by herself. Jerry also feels a desire to connect with the older native boys who are swimming at the beach; he is a foreigner, and he knows he does not belong to their group of friends. Once he discovers the underwater tunnel the boys are able to swim through, he becomes obsessed with making the swim himself. At eleven years of age, Jerry is on the cusp of entering adolescence, which is a psychologically challenging stage of human development. Jerry needs to prove to himself that he is capable of making the dangerous swim while controlling his fear and moving out of his childhood. He feels pressure to work quickly because he knows he and his mother will leave the island soon.

Physically, what Jerry is attempting to do is difficult. He has to condition himself to hold his breath for increasingly longer periods of time underwater. It causes him physical pain, and he experiences nosebleeds, weakness, headaches, and dizziness. The rocks abrade his skin, and in making the swim, he struggles with remaining conscious.

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What physical and mental “tortures” does Jerry go through?  

Jerry has to undergo the mental torture of growing up. This is difficult enough for most boys but is especially difficult for a boy like Jerry, who doesn't have a father. He's forced to experience the transition to manhood without the guidance of a male authority figure, so he has to prove his manliness by engaging in dangerous feats of physical strength and courage. Jerry wants to impress the other boys on the beach, and as he can't speak their language, he figures that the best way to do that will be to swim through the narrow tunnel.

In turn, this leads to physical torture, as Jerry experiences great physical pain and discomfort—such as constant nosebleeds—as he prepares for his swim. And during that swim, half way through the tunnel, the pressure on Jerry's lungs is so great that he starts to panic. At that precise moment, he experiences both mental and physical torture at the same time.

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