However, the story can also be seen as a symbol for this young boys journey from childhood to adolescence or early manhood and Lessing does this very successfully by using effective language to convey the setting and the boy’s state of mind.
In the first paragraph we are introduced to this use of symbolism by ‘the young English boy stopped at a turning of the path’. There are two ways the boy could go – towards the ‘safe’ beach that he knows so well or towards the
‘Wild and rocky bay’
It shows his he is starting to grow up and move a way from the safety barrier and that he is thinking about turning off onto the path of adolescence. This is effective because, when you get to that point in your life, it feels natural to stray a little from familiar things and it is natural to wander.
When the eleven year old Jerry is allowed to go to the bay he does so eagerly but finds a mixture of pleasant and unpleasant scenes, e.g.:
‘A scoop of moving bluish green fringed with white’.
This is a beautiful image to behold but this is symbolisation, used to show that nothing, not even adolescence, is completely brilliant and:
‘Rocks lay like discoloured monsters’.
This is personification and simile that would be enough to scare most children off their path and out of the water. Yet Jerry carries on.
‘As he ran sliding and scraping the last few yards, he saw an edge of white surf and the shallow, luminous movement of water over white sand, and, beyond that, a solid, heavy blue.’
This gives us an image that shows the long journey he has to make to get through adolescence, but he is not ready yet to complete this task as Jerry is still a child. We can tell this as:
‘He ran straight into the water and began swimming.’
The French boys on the edge of the cape are older than Jerry and different from him as they are:
‘Burned smooth dark brown and speaking a language he did not understand’
And he longs to be like them as he had:
‘A craving that filled his whole body’.
These boys had reached adolescence because they could swim through and reach the other end of the tunnel, but Jerry had still a way to go.
He saw his journey through the tunnel as the initiation test he had to pass to enter early manhood.
Lessing uses effective symbolic language to convey how Jerry felt as he approached this challenge and to show how difficult the transition from boyhood to adolescence is. When Jerry first sets eyes on the thing stopping him from going further in his life he thought of it as
‘A black wall, looming’.
This was the barrier between his childhood and manhood, the difference between the future and the past. He knew he had to get through it to be like the boys, and he was determined to succeed. As he pushes towards his goal, Jerry, is faced by many problems, like the
‘Fanged and angry boulders’
As they were an unpleasant image and the personification made it really feel like they might attack Jerry. The language used is good as it makes you think of things that might actually be fanged, such as tigers and vampires. Most of the things he faces are meant to be like the challenges that everyone has to tackle when they reach adolescence, though these are slightly different,
‘The salt was so painful in his eyes’
Is just one of these problems, but there is a way of tactically getting through this as Jerry begs his mother
‘I want some swimming goggles’.
What Lessing is suggesting on a symbolic level here is that, though we all face problems, there are ways of getting out of some of them. Eventually the beach where his mother stayed:
‘Seemed a place for small children’.
This is because:
‘It was not his beach’.
This tells us that
Since he had to return home in four days he had to make the decision to try and swim through the tunnel even though
‘He was trembling with fear’ and ‘he was trembling with horror.’
When he ‘chose the biggest stone he could carry’ it suggests that in some way he was carrying his childhood, but was ready and willing to let it go if he could make his way into adolescence.
As Jerry finally makes his way through the tunnel, he sees many things that scare him but, eventually, are not as bad as he had thought, like when he
‘Again thought of the octopuses, and wondered if the tunnel might be filled with weed that could tangle him.’
But the tunnel turned out not to be as bad as he had originally thought, It had pleasant things like:
‘The water was jewel green’ and the crack in the rock ceiling that had ‘sunlight falling through’.
These images comforted Jerry and got him past the bad things like ‘the sharp roof’ on which he had hit his head.
When the author says ‘he was at the end of what he could do’ it shows that you can’t go through adolescence overnight.
When Jerry finally gets to the tunnel end:
‘He could see the local boys diving and playing half a mile away. He did not want them.’
Jerry did not need the big boys anymore because he was now one of them. He had come through the transition and was now a young man. When Jerry met up with his mother later she laid:
‘Her hand on his warm brown shoulder.’
Which shows us he is one of the boys now, because they had been brown and now so was Jerry.
The last paragraph important as it says:
‘She was ready for a battle of wills, but he gave in at once. It was no longer of the least importance to go to the bay’.
This shows that over the time at the bay, Jerry has matured and now has more important things to worry about than the bay. That part of his life is over now and he had the challenges of adolescence to face now. It also shows that Jerry’s mother was ready for a tantrum, and is ready for all the arguments they will have through Jerry’s teen years.
To conclude, I enjoyed this short story about an English boy’s struggles to become a man as it was refreshingly different, and the effective symbolism Lessing used throughout the story engaged me and made me think about life from a completely new angle.
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