Through the Tunnel

by

Doris Lessing

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Jerry Character Analysis

The protagonist of the story, and its only named character, Jerry is a young English boy on vacation with his mother to a coastal town in a foreign country. He is eleven years old and his father is dead. When Jerry’s mother decides to spend another day at their usual beach and he sets off on his own down to the separate rocky bay, he is seemingly happy to be alone. When he sees a group of older boys, though, Jerry is eager to impress them with his swimming abilities. When the boys ignore him, diving underwater and swimming through a tunnel in a rock, Jerry becomes determined to do the same and spends the remainder of the story preparing to perform this task. By the end of the story, Jerry has proved his abilities to himself, and no longer seeks the approval of the older boys. Thus, his journey “through the tunnel” is symbolic of the journey all children must go through—from dependence on their parents to a degree of independence. In this way, “Through the Tunnel” is a coming-of-age story in miniature, as it portrays Jerry’s courageous feat as a universal one: that of making the passage from childhood to young adulthood.

Jerry Quotes in Through the Tunnel

The Through the Tunnel quotes below are all either spoken by Jerry or refer to Jerry. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Through the Tunnel published in 1980.
Through the Tunnel Quotes

Going to the shore on the first morning of the vacation, the young English boy stopped at a turning of the path and looked down at a wild and rocky bay and then over to the crowded beach he knew so well from other years.

Related Characters: Jerry
Related Symbols: The Rocky Bay
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

She was thinking, Of course he’s old enough to be safe without me. Have I been keeping him too close? He mustn’t feel he ought to be with me. I must be careful.

Related Characters: Jerry, Mother
Related Symbols: The Rocky Bay
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

He ran straight into the water and began swimming. He was a good swimmer. He went out fast over the gleaming sand, over a middle region where rocks lay like discolored monsters under the surface, and then he was in the real sea—a warm sea where irregular cold currents from the deep water shocked his limbs.

Related Characters: Jerry
Related Symbols: The Rocky Bay
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

When he was so far out that he could look back not only on the little bay but past the promontory that was between it and the big beach, he floated on the buoyant surface and looked for his mother. There she was, a speck of yellow under an umbrella that looked like a slice of orange peel. He swam back to shore, relieved at being sure she was there, but all at once very lonely.

Related Characters: Jerry, Mother
Related Symbols: The Rocky Bay
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

The English boy swam toward them but kept his distance at a stone’s throw. They were 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.

Related Characters: Jerry, Older boys
Related Symbols: The Tunnel
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Soon the biggest of the boys poised himself, shot down into the water, and did not come up. The others stood about, watching. Jerry, after waiting for the sleek brown head to appear, let out a yell of warning; they looked at him idly and turned their eyes back toward the water. After a long time, the boy came up on the other side of a big dark rock, letting the air out of his lungs in a sputtering gasp and a shout of triumph.

Related Characters: Jerry, Older boys
Related Symbols: The Tunnel
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Under him, six or seven feet down, was a floor of perfectly clean, shining white sand, rippled firm and hard by the tides. Two grayish shapes steered there, like long, rounded pieces of wood or slate. They were fish. He saw them nose toward each other, poise motionless, make a dart forward, swerve off, and come around again. It was like a water dance.

Related Characters: Jerry
Related Symbols: The Tunnel
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

He got his head in, found his shoulders jammed, moved them in sidewise, and was inside as far as his wrist. He could see nothing ahead. Something soft and clammy touched his mouth; he saw a dark frond moving against the grayish rock, and panic filled him. He thought of octopuses, of clinging weed.

Related Characters: Jerry
Related Symbols: The Tunnel
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

Again his nose bled at night, and his mother insisted on his coming with her the next day. It was a torment to him to waste a day of his careful self-training, but he stayed with her on that other beach, which now seemed a place for small children, a place where his mother might lie safe in the sun. It was not his beach.

Related Characters: Jerry, Mother
Related Symbols: The Tunnel
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

He was without light, and the water seemed to press upon him with the weight of rock. Seventy-one, seventy-two. There was no strain on his lungs. He felt like an inflated balloon, his lungs were so light and easy, but his head was pulsing.

Related Characters: Jerry
Related Symbols: The Tunnel
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

He could see nothing but a red-veined, clotted dark. His eyes must have burst, he thought; they were full of blood. He tore off his goggles and a gout of blood went into the sea. His nose was bleeding, and the blood had filled the goggles.

48

Related Characters: Jerry
Related Symbols: The Tunnel
Explanation and Analysis:

After a time, his heart quieted, his eyes cleared, and he sat up. He could see the local boys diving and playing half a mile away. He did not want them. He wanted nothing but to get back home and lie down.

Related Characters: Jerry, Older boys
Related Symbols: The Tunnel
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Through the Tunnel LitChart as a printable PDF.
Through the Tunnel PDF

Jerry Character Timeline in Through the Tunnel

The timeline below shows where the character Jerry appears in Through the Tunnel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Through the Tunnel
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
The story begins with Jerry and his mother on vacation from their native England to a coastal town in an... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Jerry eyes move from his mother’s white arm, then to the rocky bay, then back to... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Solitude vs. Community Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
The next day, Jerry’s mother, whose white arm has noticeably reddened since the day before, asks outright if he’s... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Solitude vs. Community Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
...at the idea that his mother will be all alone at the beach almost forces Jerry to follow her again. Readers then learn that Jerry is an only child and that... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Solitude vs. Community Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Already a strong swimmer, Jerry goes directly into the water of the rocky bay and drifts far enough out that... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Solitude vs. Community Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
The biggest boy dives into the water and doesn’t come up. Jerry is surprised and yells out to the others, who don’t seem concerned about the other... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Solitude vs. Community Theme Icon
As the older boys prepare to perform the feat again from the diving rock, Jerry is desperate for their approval. He flails about and tries speaking to them in broken... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Solitude vs. Community Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Jerry gets his mother to buy him a pair of goggles,  determined to swim through the... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
After making note of its dimensions, Jerry drops his rock and tries to wedge himself into the hole but has some difficulty... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
After discovering the tunnel and struggling to fit inside its opening, Jerry goes back to the shore and stares at the rock, thinking about how he can... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Jerry returns to the villa, where he finds his mother eating her dinner. That night, Jerry... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Over the following few days, Jerry continues his routine of underwater training and also continues to get nosebleeds at night. Worried... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Without asking for permission, the next day Jerry runs off to the rocky bay by himself. While he sets off on his routine,... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
One morning, Jerry’s mother tells him that they will be leaving to go back home in four days.... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Nervous about his decision, Jerry grabs a stone, holds his breath and plunges down to the tunnel. He squeezes his... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
After reaching the crack and seeing the darkness still ahead of him in the tunnel, Jerry passes the two-minute mark of holding his breath. Just as he begins to feel like... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Solitude vs. Community Theme Icon
Once he fully regains his ability to see and catches his breath, Jerry sees the group of local older boys playing down the shore, but he is no... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Jerry reaches the villa before his mother returns from her daily trip to the beach. He... (full context)