If you’re in a hurry and are just looking for a handout and lesson plan, here you go. Just come back and read the rest later. You’re sure to be enamored with my charm and wit.
It’s crazy that I have this short story listed on four different pages on my website, yet I’ve never written a teaching guide for it. I’ll start by sharing a blurb from each of these short story groups.
Great Short Story Upsets. Jerry over the Tunnel in “Through the Tunnel.” The odds of Jerry making it through the tunnel without dying a horrible death are quite long. After all, he is a pasty mama’s boy from England trying to compete with the natives in a dangerous rite of passage involving tunnels, water, and a potential drowning. As with most pasty English boys with overprotective Mom’s, Jerry does something really stupid, which leads to one of literature’s greatest upsets.
Great Short Story by Women Authors. “Through the Tunnel” by Doris Lessing. A vacationing lad with an overly protective mother strives to swim through an underwater tunnel to prove his manhood. Think symbolism and coming of age. Mature audiences will recognize aspects of the story that are inappropriate for some.
Short Stories for Teaching Conflict. “Through the Tunnel” by Doris Lessing: Individual vs. Self – A young English mama’s boy attempts to become a man by swimming through an underwater tunnel. His descent into the underwater tunnel involves heavy breathing, blood, ecstasy, and an incredible sense of accomplishment. You can pretend, however, that the story isn’t really about sex during the parent-teacher conference (and retain your job).
Short Stories for Teaching Symbolism. “Through the Tunnel” by Doris Lessing. A vacationing lad with an overly protective mother strives to swim through an under water tunnel to prove his manhood. It doesn’t even take a dirty mind to figure out the symbolism in Doris Lessing’s “Through the Tunnel.”
- A pasty English boy confronts “natives” swimming through a long tunnel. The natives symbolize the shedding of stuffiness.
- The tunnel is a moist hole that the boy, just reaching puberty, wishes to enter.
- He feels that penetrating the hole will make him a man.
- He sticks his head in several times to get a feel for things. The growth around the mouth of the cave tickles his face.
- He nearly passes out while going through the tunnel.
- He exits, breathing heavily, head covered in blood.
I would play stupid and look shocked when students come up with their own interpretation. On second thought, don’t mention symbolism at all.
"Through the Tunnel" Summary
Jerry is on vacation with his mommy. As he walks to the safe beach—the one he always go to—with his mother, he looks back longingly at the “wild bay.” It is implied that perhaps Jerry’s mother is a bit overprotective of the lad, but she does allow him to explore the rocks close.
Jerry spots some naked natives having a grand old time in the wild bay and longs to join their group. Once they realize he’s just a pasty English boy, they kind of ignore him. But he works his way into their group as they take turns diving.
Jerry was feeling pretty good about himself and life until the native boys, considered men by Jerry, dive in and swim through a hidden tunnel (hence, the story’s title). Jerry, unable to locate the entrance, throws a temper tantrum and makes a fool of himself in front of his new “friends.”
The natives dive again and zoom by the crestfallen Jerry. Nearly three minutes later they come out the other side of the tunnel. The natives grab their clothes and go elsewhere, not wanting to be around Jerry.
He goes home and pesters his mom for a pair of goggles so he can discover the opening. After a few trips to the bottom, Jerry discovers the tunnel’s entrance. Jerry sets a goal to swim through the tunnel (or die trying).
Jerry spends many days learning to hold his breath for the requisite amount of time. Two days before the appointed day of leaving, Jerry makes the attempt…
"Through the Tunnel" Lesson Ideas
- Suspense. Use a suspense graphic organizer to analyze how Lessing creates suspense in “Through the Tunnel.”
- Characterization. Jerry makes a fine example of a dynamic character—one who changes during the story. Analyze Jerry.
- Symbolism. “Mature high school student” is mostly an oxymoron, so be careful with symbolism. There’s a definite coming of age/sexual/getting in touch with your savage nature as you travel through a hairy tunnel undertone to the story.
- Setting. It is often necessary to leave home in order to discover one's greatness.
- Plot Part 1. This story follows the standard Freytag’s Pyramid analysis.
- Plot Part 2. It also follows the hero’s journey.
- Poetry Analysis. I recommend pairing this story with Frost's "The Road Not Taken."