Along the rocky bay where Jerry goes to swim without his mother’s supervision, there is a large rock sticking out of the water. Jerry doesn’t make notice of this feature until he is swimming with the group of older boys and watches them dive underwater and swim through a tunnel at the bottom of the rock. These boys, who are bigger and more confident than Jerry, perform this impressive feat with ease. Jerry quickly becomes determined to swim through the tunnel, too. When the story opens, Jerry is still a young boy under the close guidance of his mother, but after he notices the boys perform this stunt, he embarks on a journey toward his own independence and maturity. The act of training to swim through the tunnel is an intense emotional and physical struggle for Jerry, so when he finally does make it through by the end of the story, he has made a new step toward the independence of adulthood. In this way, the tunnel is symbolic of the passage from childhood into young adulthood, dependence into independence, and weakness into strength.
The Tunnel Quotes in Through the Tunnel
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.