Setting as Symbols of Growth in Doris Lessing’s “Through the Tunnel”
Authors often use atmosphere to refer to something in a story. The setting of a story is generally not what it seems, but has more meaning behind it. In the book “Through the Tunnel” by Doris Lessing, the setting reflects and represents a certain level of maturity. The main character, Jerry, explores his maturity over the course of the story and grows into himself. He finds it challenging to leave his safe place, which complicates his rite of passage into adolescence. Throughout the story, Jerry goes through various trials that challenge him mentally and physically; the different settings in the story represent Jerry’s adolescence and maturity as his childish behavior and immaturity. The beach in the story represents Jerry’s comfort zone, his immaturity, and his youth. For example, Jerry nags his mom nonstop for goggles until she finally gets them for him.
After embarrassing himself at the bay in front of the boys because he couldn’t see what they were doing, Jerry asks for goggles so he could see better underwater. He nags and pesters his mom for the goggles and when she finally got them, he grabs them “from her hand as if she were going to claim them for herself, and was off, running down the steep path to the bay” (379). By acting like this, Jerry shows that he’s eager to better himself in the bay after the encounter, but at the same time also shows how he’s still very impatient and immature because he can’t seem to wait patiently for his goggles. Then, he begins to outgrow the “safe” beach. When Jerry’s mom forces him to spend the day at the beach after overdoing it at the bay, he feels that it isn’t the place for him and that he doesn’t belong there anymore, that it “was not his beach.”
He says that “it was a torment” to waste an entire day of training at a place “for small children” and where “his mother might lie safe in the sun” (380). The beach reflects his immaturity and childishness, so by outgrowing it, Jerry shows that he’s becoming more independent and mature and now he doesn’t need comfort or safety as much. As we can see, the beach is simply Jerry’s comfort zone and he’s slowly becoming ready to leave it and explore into more dangerous waters instead of playing it safe all the time. As for the bay in the story, it represents a place where Jerry learns to be more independent and betters himself emotionally, slowly growing more mature throughout his time there. “Look at me! Look!”” and begins “splashing and kicking in the water like a foolish dog” (378).
After panicking because the boys were underwater for what Jerry deemed as too long, he, in the panic of failure, yells these words to them. This is his first encounter at the bay, and he manages to embarrass himself in front of guys older than him. This demonstrates that Jerry isn’t yet mature and still sort of immature. This is because when he fails, the first thing he does is desperately trying to distract the boys from that by being silly. Perhaps during training was when Jerry began to mature. Jerry begins to train for his journey but knows that he cannot go through impulsively like he did when he first attempted to after being left on the bay by himself, since he embarrassed himself in front of the boys. Jerry knows that he could most likely go through the tunnel if he tried after some time of training, but “a curious, most unchildlike persistence, a controlled impatience, made him wait” (381).
The bay becomes a bay where he can train emotionally and physically, and when he decides to wait instead of just going through the tunnel, it shows that he’s become more mature and more patient with the process instead of wanting it right away like when he wanted the googles. Therefore, the bay is where Jerry becomes emotionally and physically more mature and grows from being an immature kid to an independent adolescent. The tunnel under the sea signifies Jerry’s rite of passage and his entrance into adolescence. For instance, Jerry feels that he’s ready to try and go through the tunnel after all his training and worries, then, he succeeds in crossing through the tunnel and enters adolescence, completing his rite of passage. When Jerry enters the tunnel, he seems to be able to get through easily, with his hands and feet moving freely and thinking that “the hole must have widened out,” and when he successfully does it, “victory fills him” (383).
The tunnel represents his maturity and manhood. By going through the tunnel successfully, Jerry shows that he’s entered adolescence and he’s not an impatient and immature little kid anymore like he used to be. Furthermore, Jerry doesn’t need acceptance from the boys anymore. When he sees the boys after crossing through the tunnel, he doesn’t even want to go over to them. Jerry sees “the local boys diving and playing half a mile away” but he just wanted to get back home and lie down” (383). To Jerry, the bay and those boys don’t seem of much importance anymore after he’s reached his goal.
This tells us that he’s gained self-confidence in himself and he knows that he doesn’t need or want the validation from those boys or to fit in with them as he did before. Thus, the tunnel and rock are Jerry’s passage to manhood, where he steps out of his comfort zone and grows into a mature young man. We can see how Lessing uses setting to symbolize different aspects of Jerry’s life and how he transitions from them into a new aspect. When we first get introduced to Jerry, he hasn’t fully matured and still depends on his mom for support. However, towards the end of the story, we see how much he’s grown from being the impatient and immature kid. Jerry’s experience isn’t one that is uncommon. Many people go through some sort of experience, or rite of passage, that allows them to see things differently once they’ve successfully reached their goals. Some of the experiences may not be as harsh as it was on Jerry, but is still a big part in someone’s life.