Through the Tunnel

by Doris Lessing

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In Through The Tunnel, why does Jerry's mother let him go to the rocks despite her worries?

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In Through The Tunnel by Doris Lessing, a familiar story of a seemingly over-protective mother emerges. However, Jerry's mother is aware of her shortcomings, and Jerry's obvious need to start asserting himself, despite his fairly young age of eleven, and she tries very hard to be  "neither possessive nor lacking in devotion," in her attempts to allow her son to develop. The fact that Jerry looks out over the "wild and rocky bay" at the beginning gives the reader immediate insight into the potential thread of the story and Jerry's longing is obvious because, "as he played on the safe beach, he was thinking of it;" wishing he could go in the "real sea." Jerry's mother recognizes the dangers of allowing him to go off alone and her "anxious, apologetic smile" also reveals how conflicted she is looking out over the "wild-looking place." She purposefully stops herself from over-reacting, reminding herself that he is a strong swimmer and she mustn't "fuss!" 

As Jerry achieves what he set out to do and manages to overcome his fears of potentially drowning, the reader can understand that this is only the start for Jerry. The effort in making it through the tunnel was enormous and, at one point he even "felt he was dying." However, the event has changed Jerry. He has managed, by himself, to achieve what was almost impossible for him and the enormity of it is his secret. He does not tell his mother as she will only worry more. The reader can predict that Jerry's relationship with his mother will change now. The fact that Jerry's mother expected a "battle of wills" but Jerry is happy to accept her advice shows the beginning of this changed relationship. The reader can also presume that Jerry will go back to the tunnel and try again, improving, and thereby maturing, every time, growing in confidence. The symbolism of the tunnel will always remind Jerry of his passage from boyhood to manhood.

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"In Through the Tunnel," why does the mother let Jerry go to the rocks if she is worried about him and can predict what will happen?

Doris Lessing's "Through the Tunnel" has maturation as its theme.  When Jerry receives only the grave frowning from the bigger boys, he realizes that they perceive him as a mere child. So, he wants to dive under the rocks as they do, go through the underwater tunnel, and come up on the other side.  When he can do this action, Jerry believes that he will, then, be a man.

On the day before he left, he would do it.  He would do it if it killed him, he said defiantly to himself.

But, long before he has these thoughts, Jerry and his mother are on the "safe beach" which they have visited for years.  This year, however, Jerry has looked at the "wild bay" and thinks about it all morning. Sensing his interest in the bay, his mother asks him, "Would you like to go somewhere else?" At first, Jerry demurs; however, as they walk, he says that he would like to explore the rocks at the wild bay. Despite the wildness and loneliness of the area, his mother gives her permission,

"Of course, Jerry.  When you've had enough, come to the big beach. Or just go straight back to the villa...."

As Jerry departs, the mother worries that she has been keeping Jerry too close to her; she tells herself, "He mustn't feel he ought to be with me.  I must be careful."  Jerry's mother does not want to smother him or treat him as if he is a child.  Although she is anxious, she lets Jerry go because she does not want to appear "possessive" and controlling. For, she knows her son must become a young man.

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