Doris Lessing is a British writer who has a background of upbringing in various Afro-Asian countries like Persia and Rhodesia. But she is living in Britain since 1949. She has written extensively about the racial and also has taken into account the feminist themes like male-female relationship and female identity and freedom in contemporary Western society. There an autobiographical element in “Through the Tunnel” and she describes her own experiences in it. Symbolism is an important literary element that she utilizes in a subtle way to covey her themes.
Through the Tunnel symbolizes her own adolescent experience at recognizing her difference with the world where she resides and the world she belongs to and the passage through the channel of identity crisis.
The two areas of coast safe beach and dangerous beach Jerry looks at when he arrives at the coastline symbolize the two different worlds. Like Lessing he resides at a place where he has no solace. He connects his mother to that crowded beach due to the fact she has no identity of her own and is lost among the crowd.
Lessing reflects her own image in the form of Jerry as her own parents especially her mother lost her true identity and remained a part of the world where they resided i.e. Persia and Rhodesia.
They neither became a part of that society nor their own. “Jerry’s struggle is that of an individual trying to find his place in the world” (Sobeloff, 1997) Her mother helps him in this regard although she is concerned about him but she thinks that “Of course he’s old enough to be safe without me.” (Lessing) So she decides to let him go by saying; “Are you tired of the usual beach, Jerry? Would you like to go somewhere else?”” (Lessing)
The Safe beach is a place that Lessing belongs too. Jerry feels a sense of independence and security while playing on that safe beach. That somewhere else is the place where he craves to go for. For Lessing that place is England i.e. her maternal ancestral home. Although she resided among the native African and felt their pathos and miseries but like Jerry, she “kept his distance at a stone’s throw.” (Lessing)
Because she was different racially, linguistically and culturally. As “all of them burned smooth dark brown, and speaking a language he did not understand.” (Lessing) Lessing and Jerry were different from them. The difference was not deep and based on hatred as “They shouted cheerful greetings at him”. (Lessing) Sobeloff says that “while there is no overt “color bar” guiding the interactions between Jerry and the older boys” (Sobeloff, 1997) but it was psychological. So Lessing felts the pains of Africans but psychologically she was an English being.
The passage through the tunnel is an effort for one’s own identity and freedom. Lessing has to go through the suffering of this identity but she took it as challenge like jerry. Passage through this identity tunnel was marked with pathos and miseries but she never gave up. Whenever a child hankers after such an adventurous journey, there are friends, relative and parents who counsel and help in these issues but for Jerry there is no one to provide answer to his questions and to relieve him. Same was the case with Lessing. She struggled all alone for her identity and there was no help of any sort available to her.
Hanford has beautifully summed up this challenge in her life; “Lessing’s life has been a challenge to her belief that people cannot resist the currents of their time, as she fought against the biological and cultural imperatives that fated her to sink without a murmur into marriage and motherhood.” (Hanford, 1995) Jerry toiled day ad night to pass that tunnel; “That day and the next, Jerry exercised his lungs as if everything, the whole of his life, all that he would become, depended upon it.
And again his nose bled at night, and his mother insisted on his coming with her the next day.” (Lessing) Lessing went through the same toil and effort to remove the chasm between herself and her true identity. Because the beach where she was residing “It was not [her] beach.” (Lessing) Finally she won her fight and But unlike Jerry she “gave in at once.” (Lessing) Helleron clearly depicts the inner satisfaction of Lessing by saying that “When Jerry finally achieves his goal, there is no fanfare, no applause, just a quiet celebration within himself knowing that he succeeded.” (Helleron, 1997)
Hanford, Jan. Biography. A Reader’s Guide to The Golden Notebook & Under My Skin,
Harper Perennial, 1995.
Holleran, Karen.” Through the Tunnel: The Search for Identity and Acceptance”. Short Stories for Students, Gale Research, 1997.
Lessing, Doris. The Habit of Loving. London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1957
Sobeloff, Judy. Short Stories for Students, Gale Research, 1997.