Book Summary: Through the Tunnel

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The Quest to Conquer
The main character, Jerry, in Dorris Lessing’s short story “Through the Tunnel” is an adolescent boy. The story illustrates Jerry’s struggles with fear, independence, maturity, and self-confidence. Jerry’s main conflict is his internal war between determination and fear. To win this battle raging on the inside, Jerry first has to overcome the obstacles he faces on the outside. Crushing the external hindrances he faces will determine whether or not Jerry is able to conquer the conflicts inside.

Jerry and his mother entirely depend upon each other, as Jerry’s father is recently deceased. Due to their need for each other, they both struggle with the balance of separation. Jerry deals with many external conflicts throughout the story, but one in particular is his battle with independence. “‘Are you tired of the usual beach, Jerry? Would you like to go somewhere else?’ ‘Oh no!’ he said quickly… Yet walking down the path, he blurted out, ‘I’d like to go and have a look down there’” (76). Jerry wants to go explore, but in fear of leaving his mother alone, is hesitant.

At dinner one night, Jerry tells his mother, “Mummy, I can hold my breath underwater for two minutes-three at least” (85). Jerry is only telling half the story. To the reader, this comes off as part of Jerry’s independence. Jerry is beginning to take part in events that could change, or even end his life. He does not feel obligated to express the situation to his mother. Jerry is simply becoming less dependent.

Young boys are just that, they are young. Jerry is eleven years old. He wants to prove himself. To Jerry, swimming through the tunnel is the most important task at the moment. Another example of an external conflict is Jerry’s training program. After almost every attempt at the tunnel, or simply holding his breath, Jerry suffers. “He lay face down, gasping. He could see nothing but a red-veined, clotted dark. His eyes must have burst, he thought; they were full of blood....
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