Through the Tunnel – Doris Lessing – Perspective and Tension

Through the Tunnel” by Doris Lessing is a great example of how perspective shifts a story and ways in which tension can be exploited.  The story focuses on a young boy, Jerry, and to a point, his relationship with his mother.  By bouncing back and forth between the two characters, we can see flashes of their thoughts and views of one another.

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.
He was an only child, eleven years old. She was a widow. She was determined to be neither possessive nor lacking in devotion. She went worrying off to her beach.

Also, this story shows how at a young age, the gap between child and parent widens.  The mother loves Jerry, and cares for him, but he’s starting to branch out and develop his own sense of identity.  When his mother leaves him, we see Jerry outside of her view.

As for Jerry, once he saw that his mother had gained her beach, he began the steep descent to the bay. From where he was, high up among red-brown rocks, it was a scoop of moving bluish green fringed with white. As he went lower, he saw that it spread among small promontories and inlets of rough, sharp rock, and the crisping, lapping surface showed stains of purple and darker blue. Finally, as he ran sliding and scraping down the last few yards, he saw an edge of white surf, and the shallow, luminous movement of water over white sand, and, beyond that, a solid, heavy blue.
He ran straight into the water and began swimming.

At first Jerry revels in his freedom, but then things change.

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.

Who is Jerry?  He doesn’t know.  He’s still learning.  He wants to be independent of his mom, but he wants her close.  Jerry’s torn trying to shape himself.  However, his attention turns elsewhere and he strives to be included by a group of older boys.

They were big boys — men to Jerry. He dived, and they watched him, and when he swam around to take his place, they made way for him. He felt he was accepted, and he dived again, carefully, proud of himself.

To Jerry, these are men.  Growing up without a father, he’s looking for examples upon which to emulate.  The boys dive through a tunnel deep underwater and Jerry wants emulate that.  It’s become some kind of right of passage only definable by Jerry, but will he survive it?

The scene in which he makes his attempt is a great study in creating suspense.

Soon he was clear inside. He was in a small rock-bound hole filled with yellowish-grey water. The water was pushing him up against the roof. The roof was sharp and pained his back. He pulled himself along with his hands — fast, fast — and used his legs as levers. His head knocked against something; a sharp pain dizzied him.

For Jerry’s mother, all of this unknown.  She’s aware only that he’s been swimming away from the main beach, the safe beach.  While she relaxes and soaks in the sun, Jerry is undergoing a journey that will change everything.

3 thoughts on “Through the Tunnel – Doris Lessing – Perspective and Tension”

  1. >Hi tim my names JamieI'm a student i have an essay on this stroy i was wondering if you could discuss it with meThanks very much

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