“Through the Tunnel” by Doris Lessing
Ideas and concepts of belonging in “Through the Tunnel”
TIP: Some words to use in your answers: rebellion, conformity, exclusion,
inclusion, rejection, acceptance, love, protection, obligation, personal growth
Words to link episodes (details from the text) to ideas:
Shows, demonstrates, illustrates, exemplifies, typifies, highlights, develops
Reveals, contrasts with
1. Describe Jerry’s feeling of belonging to his mother at the beginning of the
story. Look at his actions and consider the implications of these phrases :
o “contrition sends him running after her”
o he “looked over his shoulder to the wild bay”
o but “felt it unbearable that she should go by herself”
o he still “looked for his mother”.
2. In the middle of the story Jerry “nagged and pestered” his mother for new
goggles. Re-read this section of the story and describe his relationship to his
mother at this stage.
3. Jerry knows what he is doing is dangerous as he has serious nose-bleeds
and that his mother is concerned but he continues with his training. Why?
4. At the end of the story, when Jerry tells his mother that he can hold his breath
for two minutes, she tells him not to over-do it and advises him not to swim
any more that day. “She was ready for a battle of wills but he gave in at once”.
Explain what has changed in Jerry’s relationship with his mother and why.
1. Why was the English boy, Jerry, so keen to belong to the group of French
boys? Why does Lessing use the phrase he had a “craving that filled his
whole body” to describe his feelings?
2. Jerry felt accepted even though the French boys ignored him. Explain why.
3. Look at the description of Jerry crying after the French boys leave him on p16.
Later in the story he could see the French boys “diving and playing’ but “did
not want them”. (P20) Explain why his attitude has changed.
1. Compare Jerry’s behaviour with his mother over the goggles to the tenacity he
displays in his determination to achieve the challenge. How can you explain
2. The boy who goes into the tunnel is different from the boy who comes out of
the tunnel. Explain the symbolism of the tunnel.
3 Describe how Jerry’s new found maturity and self-possession expresses itself
in his relationships with his mother and the French boys.
Techniques used to convey ideas of belonging
1. a. The story uses many language devices to convey the idea of wildness. In
the last paragraph on p14 to the second paragraph on p15 find examples of:
b. Explain how these examples help to create ideas of wildness.
2. The descriptions of the two beaches are contrasted. Read them again and
explain how they symbolise conformity and rebellion.
3. What does the repetition of “again and again” on p17 tell us about the boy?
What does the repetition of 115 on p19 indicate is happening?
4. In what person is the story narrated?
5. The character of the mother and the changing character of the boy are
revealed through their dialogue. Give 2 examples of dialogue for each
character and say what characteristic it reveals.
6. The description of Jerry swimming through the tunnel uses both long and
short sentences. What emotion does this create?
7. On p18 (para 5) Jerry asks himself a series of questions. What do we
understand from these questions?
Links to Strictly Ballroom
For each of these statements write a paragraph explaining how this is true for both
Strictly Ballroom and “Through the Tunnel”.
1. Sometimes a person needs to make choices which alienate them from the
contexts and people they belong to. This often involves some kind of risk.
(context = environments, groups, activities)
2. Both the need to belong to a group and the need for self-actualisation (which
could also be called belonging-to-oneself) can all too easily become
3. Being open to new experiences can lead us to discover new ways of
4. As a person moves into adulthood to become a complete person with a true
sense of themselves, they need to make decisions that are right for them,
even against family or social pressure.
Doris Lessing, “Through the Tunnel”
There are many connections between Luhrmann’s film and Lessing’s story “Through
the tunnel”. Both show an individual determined to move outside their comfort zone
and gain self-actualisation but where and how this happens differs greatly as do the
levels of risk involved and the ultimate focus of the texts.
Both texts show how Belonging to another (Scott to the Dance Federation, Jerry to
his mother) can block our growth. In “Through the Tunnel” Jerry, like Scott, begins
the narrative bored with his world, knowing he has outgrown it and needs something
more. Originally the boy was obsessed with the new group he wanted to join, the
French boys, but soon discovers that the independence he craves must come from
himself. Lessing shows the transition from a natural but ill-fated yearning to be one of
the big boys to an obsessive solitary quest to transform himself. Lessing uses the
contrast between the two beaches – the ‘safe’ beach where his mother sunbakes
under an orange umbrella and the wild rocky beach where the French boys prove
their manhood swimming through the tunnel – to contrast the old security of one form
of belonging (mother-son) to the new world the boy wishes to join. The story
demonstrates the solitary arduous task of belonging to oneself.
In “Strictly Ballroom” Scott’s quest for a new way to dance is for the most part not a
solitary one but a shared one. The relationship with Fran and her Spanish migrant
family soon gives him a new sense of belonging. In contrast in “Through the Tunnel”
the lonelier experience of Jerry puts him at serious risk of harm. Lessing builds
suspense through dramatic repetition, contrasting long and short sentences and the
repeated phrases of counting the seconds (“one hundred, one hundred and one . .
.”). Jerry has already had a nosebleed, a dizziness spell and headaches – the reader
wonders, will he make it? Lessing sets her story in a wild environment where death
is a real possibility unlike the tamer suburban world of “Strictly Ballroom” and we
know the boy’s obsession with winning has put his life in peril.
Jerry’s status as an outsider as regards the group of French boys is shown in his
comic attempts to attract attention that earn only a disdainful “frown” from the boys.
He is in fact never likely to be part of this group given the age and language
differences. There is a contrast here with Fran’s efforts to break into the world of
Ballroom Dance. The closing sequence of applauding crowds and a dance floor
packed with dance enthusiasts portrays social inclusion – an inclusion that was
always there as a possibility as both love of dance and Australianness link Fran and
the world of Ballroom Dance. Lessing’s story is a realistic reminder that belonging
narratives don’t always end up like that and that there is no guarantee we will ever
belong in a particular group. In “Through the Tunnel”, instead, the boy channels his
yearning to belong and his longing for personal growth into the dangerous training
regime that leads him to his final “victory” over the tunnel.
“Strictly Ballroom” explores the negative effects of the herd mentality, the blind
following typical of a certain style of belonging where people “live their lives in fear”.
Lessing’s story makes a rather different point about Belonging – it focuses on the
lonely difficulties of achieving self-actualisation, of finding oneself, belonging to
oneself. Jerry at age 11 pits himself against the elements and against his own fears.
This is not an artificial world but the raw exposed world of nature. In nature the
stakes are high.
Luhrmann’s film focuses on the social dimensions of Belonging – it is a film crowded
with personalities and over-the-top emotions that ultimately defuse the audience’s
involvement with the characters. Lessing, on the other hand, builds drama and
suspense into her story, raising death as a real possibility and showing the subtle
shifts in the boy’s feelings towards his mother, the other boys and most of all himself.
Focussed on one character it gains dramatic power exploring the nature of our drive
to belong to oneself.