In Lessing's story, the eleven-year-old Jerry braves an underwater tunnel while he and his mother are on vacation. The tunnel evolves into an enormous challenge for Jerry, as he deals with his loneliness and his attempts at separating from his mother.
Rites of Passage
Jerry's beach vacation becomes the site of an intense personal challenge. Jerry must leave his mother at the shore, the shore Jerry sees as "a place for small children, a place where his mother might lie safe in the sun." He leaves the safety of this nursery-like beach and journeys to the treacherous "wild and rocky" bay and the underwater tunnel. An eleven-year-old nearing puberty, Jerry is fatherless and approaching adulthood as the sole male of the family. Throughout the story, the interchanges between him and his mother heighten the tension of the story, but Jerry, except for the one day on the safe beach, independently controls most of the action. Like most traditional rites of passage into adulthood, Jerry must venture into the wild, braving the elements and dangers of the world by himself. When he successfully completes his swim, he returns to his mother and proudly declares that he "can stay underwater for two minutes—three minutes at least." This statement belies the danger he has faced and insures the secrecy of his personal rite.
Jerry's ability to hold his breath may also be understood as a symbolic assertion of his independence. Jerry trains until he does not require air...
(The entire section is 487 words.)