Through the Tunnel by Doris Lessing
In Through the Tunnel by Doris Lessing we have the theme of connection, isolation, determination, failure, independence, conflict and coming of age. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Lessing may be exploring the theme of connection. Jerry longs for the older boys in the bay to appreciate him. It is as though he looks up to them due to their swimming abilities and the fact that they are older than him. This could be important as it suggests that though Jerry is only eleven years of age he still nonetheless has a desire to be respected or liked by those who may not necessarily be his peers. However the older boys take no real interest in Jerry preferring instead to continue with their swimming and diving without paying any recognition to Jerry. Though some critics might suggest that the older boys are being somewhat cruel the reality might be that the boys consider Jerry to be no more than a child and not somebody of particular interest to them. Which is something that would play on the theme of isolation. Jerry in reality is being isolated by the older boys not only because of his age but most likely due to difficulties with language between Jerry and the older boys.
It may also be a case that Lessing is exploring the theme of failure. At first Jerry is unable to find the tunnel in the rocks. This could be important as not only does it suggest that Jerry is failing in his task or that he is being beaten by his circumstances but the fact that he continues to look for the tunnel shows the reader how determined Jerry is. There are also early signs in the story that Jerry is becoming independent of his mother (and others). The fact that Jerry goes to the bay on his own even though it might be dangerous highlights this. It is as though Jerry’s mother trusts Jerry or at least affords him the opportunity to spend some time on his own. This too could be important as there is a sense that Jerry is transitioning from childhood to young adulthood. If anything Jerry is coming of age. The reader also sensing that the transition is complete when Jerry manages to swim through the tunnel.
Symbolically the tunnel itself may be important as Lessing may be using it to represent Jerry’s childhood. The fact that he pushes his way through the tunnel in many ways mirrors the fact that Jerry also pushes his way through his childhood into young adulthood. His achievement of swimming through the tunnel suggests that Jerry has grown as a person. The reader already aware that with this growth came suffering (both physical and mental). Jerry has put his body through a lot and also had doubts as to whether he would firstly find the tunnel and secondly that he would be able to swim through it. It might also be important that what Jerry has done he has achieved without the help of others. Which may suggest that Jerry is again independent of others. Something that would very much play on the theme of coming of age. Jerry has relied on nobody but himself. Jerry’s mother’s yellow umbrella may also have some symbolical significance as Lessing could be using it to highlight the idea of protection. While Jerry is swimming in the bay he notices the umbrella and it is as though it has become a reminder to Jerry as to where his safety net is.
At any time Jerry could swim towards his mother but chooses not to. He decides upon trusting himself even though he is unsure as to whether he can achieve his goal of swimming through the tunnel. If anything Jerry by ignoring the safety net that is his mother is beginning to mature as a person. There is also a sense of conflict in the story. Jerry is in conflict with himself. He knows that the tunnel is an obstacle but he also knows that he still nonetheless must find the tunnel and swim through it. This sense of internal conflict within Jerry is also mirrored with the conflict of man versus nature. Jerry has to learn how to hold his breath for two minutes in order for him to successfully make it through the tunnel. It is as though Jerry is not only taking on himself but he is battling with nature too. Lessing’s use of the words ‘rough’ and ‘sharp’ when describing the bay and the rocks on the bay is also interesting as both words add an element of danger to what Jerry is trying to do. The fact that Jerry is so clam when he tells his mother that he can hold his breath for two minutes underwater is also interesting. As rather than boasting about his achievement of going through the tunnel. Jerry simply accepts that he can do it. It is as though Jerry does not feel the need to boast about what he has done a sure sign that Jerry is coming of age.