Through the Tunnel

by

Doris Lessing

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The Tunnel Symbol Analysis

The Tunnel Symbol Icon

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 Through the Tunnel quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Tunnel. 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

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

The Tunnel Symbol Timeline in Through the Tunnel

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Tunnel 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
Solitude vs. Community Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
...reappear on the other side, Jerry realizes that they must have passed through an underwater tunnel. (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Solitude vs. Community Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
...gets his mother to buy him a pair of goggles,  determined to swim through the tunnel on his own.  After searching around underwater and unable to see the opening of the... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
After discovering the tunnel and struggling to fit inside its opening, Jerry goes back to the shore and stares... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
...desires. He misses the rocky bay and his daily training regimen to get through the tunnel. (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
...longer than his previous attempts. He thinks he could probably make his way through the tunnel at this point, but decides to wait. Instead, Jerry sits at the ocean floor and... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
...four days. This makes Jerry realize that he has to make his swim through the tunnel soon. Two days before they are set to leave, Jerry holds his breath for longer... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
...about his decision, Jerry grabs a stone, holds his breath and plunges down to the tunnel. He squeezes his body into the opening and slowly makes his way through. In the... (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... (full context)
Childhood and Maturity Theme Icon
...that his face has paled, but he doesn’t tell her about his adventure through the tunnel—only that he can hold his breath for up to three minutes. She tells him again... (full context)