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Through The Tunnel Doris Lessing Essay Writer

"Through the Tunnel" is a short story written by British author Doris Lessing, originally published in the American weekly magazine The New Yorker in 1955.


Jerry, a young English boy, and his widowed mother are vacationing at a beach they have come to many times in years past. Though the beach’s exact location is not given, it is obviously in a foreign country. Each tries to please the other and not to impose too many demands. The mother is “determined to be neither possessive nor lacking in devotion,” and Jerry, in turn, acts from an “unfailing impulse of contrition — a sort of chivalry.”

On the second morning, Jerry mentions that he would like to explore a “wild and rocky bay” which he glimpsed from the path. He wanted to act grown-up and not constantly travel with his mother. His conscientious mother sends him on his way with what she hopes is a casual air, and Jerry leaves behind the crowded “safe beach” where he has always played. A strong swimmer, Jerry plunges in and goes so far out that he can see his mother only as a small yellow speck on the other beach.

Looking back to shore, Jerry sees some boys strip off their clothes and go running down to the rocks, and he swims toward them but keeps his distance. The boys are “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 watches the boys, who are older and bigger than he is, until finally one waves at him and Jerry swims eagerly over. As soon as they realize he is a foreigner, though, they forget about him, but he is happy just to be among them.

Jerry joins them in diving off a high point into the water for a while, and then the biggest boy dives in and does not come up. “One moment, the morning seemed full of chattering boys; the next, the air and the surface of the water were empty. But through the heavy blue, dark shapes could be seen moving and groping.” Jerry dives down, too, and sees a “black wall of rock looming at him.” When the boys come up one by one on the other side of the rock, he “understood that they had swum through some gap or hole in it. . . . [However] he could see nothing through the stinging salt water but the blank rock.” Jerry feels failure and shame, yelling at them first in English and then in nonsensical French, the “pleading grin on his face like a scar that he could never remove.”

The boys dive into the water all around him, and he panics when they do not come back to the surface. Only when he has mentally counted to 160 does he admit that they are gone for sure. Believing they are leaving to get away from him, he “cries himself out.”

He spends the next several days contemplating swimming through the rock tunnel himself, and he practices holding his breath underwater. After one round of practice, his nose bleeds so badly that he becomes dizzy and nauseated, and he worries that the same might happen in the tunnel, that he really might die there, trapped. He resolves to wait until the day before he leaves when his mother says they will be gone in four days, but an impulse overtakes him two days beforehand, and he feels that he must make his attempt immediately — now or never. “He was trembling with fear that he would not go; and he was trembling with horror at the long, long tunnel under the rock, under the sea.”

Once inside the tunnel he begins counting, swimming cautiously, feeling both victory and panic. “He must go on into the blackness ahead, or he would drown. His head was swelling, his lungs cracking. . . . He was no longer quite conscious.” Even when he surfaces, he fears “he would sink now and drown; he could not swim the few feet back to the rock.”

In "Through the Tunnel", the literal passage through the rock tunnel becomes a coming-of-age passage for Jerry. Having accomplished his challenge, he returns to his mother's company, satisfied and confident of the future. He does not feel it necessary to tell his mother of the monumental obstacle that he has overcome.

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Through the Tunnel Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Through the Tunnel by Doris Lessing.

Nobel Prize winning, British author Doris Lessing established her literary voice in numerous genres. Her works include, but are not limited to, novels, short stories, plays, and biographies. Five years before her death at age ninety-four in 2013, she had been declared fifth on the Timesof London’s list of the top British authors since 1945. Lessing’s short story “Through the Tunnel” was first published in 1955 in The New Yorker, an American periodical. It is the story of Jerry, an English boy vacationing at a beach locale with his widowed mother. On the bay, Jerry sees a number of older boys and tries to get their attention while he watches them swim through a rock tunnel. The tunnel would seem to be the important component of the setting as an exact name or place is not given. Jerry calls out to them in French, believing them to be “of that coast,” which along with the narrative voice describing the boys as having darkly tanned skin has led to speculation that the story takes place on the French Riviera. Others have guessed that the setting is in Africa because of Lessing’s use of that continent in other stories.

Jerry and his mother have vacationed at this location many times in the past. They appear to have a close relationship and to respect each other’s space and individuality. The mother tries to be loving but not possessive of the boy. Jerry seems equally dedicated to his mother. On the second day of their trip, Jerry decides to explore the bay, which he describes as being “wild and rocky.” He had noticed it from a path and decides that it would be a way for him to be more of an adult, not always doing things on the vacation alongside his mother. The mother, in a manner that she hopes is matter of fact, gives her permission, and Jerry leaves the safety of the beach and crowds he has always known. He enters the water and being a strong swimmer, approaches a far off beach.

Watching a shore, Jerry sees the older boys removing their clothing and running toward the rocks. He swims closer, but still remains some distance away. That is when he sees them well enough to know they are dark skinned and speaking a language different from his own. At that point, he begins to develop a strong desire to become one within their group. One of the boys waves at Jerry to join them, which he happily does. The boys, however, upon realizing that he is foreign, pay little attention to him. Jerry remains pleased to have been asked to join them. Along with the boys, Jerry dives off of a high area into the water. The biggest among the boys dives in but Jerry does not see him come up. The others begin to do the same and disappear into the water as well. When he looks down, Jerry can see shapes moving about in the water.

Jerry begins to panic as all of the boys who had surrounded him have gone into the water and not returned. Jerry believes that they are gone for good having swum through some sort of opening in the rocks. He cries from the thought that the reason they left was to get away from him. For hours after that, Jerry tries to decide if he should try swimming through the tunnel himself. He makes one attempt and develops a severe nose-bleed that leaves him feeling dizzy and ill. He fears that if the same thing were to happen inside the tunnel, he could become trapped and would die there. He convinces himself that it would be better to wait until next summer when he will be stronger, but quickly he feels that if he does not do it now, he never will. He is conflicted, fearing the tunnel, but also fearing that he will never follow through with entering it.

He eventually enters the tunnel, being careful and still trapped between feelings of success and fear. He knows that he has no choice but to go forward or he could drown. When he eventually surfaces, Jerry is still worried that he could sink, or not be able to swim the short distance back to the rock. Once he has successfully accomplished his goal, the story has become a coming of age tale in which Jerry has acquired a confidence and optimism for the future. Jerry’s maturation began early in the story when he broke away from his mother as a sign of independence beginning to develop. He emulates the older boys in an attempt to become one of them and be less child-like. He reunites with his mother at the end but does not share with her what he as overcome.

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