Doris Lessing was awarded the most prestigious honor in literature when she won the Nobel Prize in 2007. Along with novel The Golden Notebook, one of the works for she is best known and which contributed greatly to her becoming a Nobel laureate is the short story “Through the Tunnel.”
Originally published in the New Yorker magazine in August, 1955 it would be republished two years later in a highly regarded collection of the author’s short fiction titled The Habit of Loving. Without the benefit of context, the story appears to be merely a very well-told coming-of-age or rite-of-passage story about a young boy making the transition to adulthood. Historical context informs the reader with a greater understanding of the complexities and nuances lying beneath the surface.
The 1955 publication came on the heels of Lessing’s having been away from the colonialist Africa in which she grew up. An Africa defined by viciously applied rules of racial segregation. As a result, the “smooth dark brown boys” who speak in a langue the young British protagonist does not understand takes on a deeper political significance than it might if written by another writer or placed into different setting. The aspects of the white boy’s coming of age and the rite of his passage into adolescence is infused with a broader political context. It is a testament both to the power of the story and to Lessing’s talent as a writer that “Through the Tunnel” can be read and fully enjoyed on a thematic level without any awareness of this underlying socio-political context, but reading it with the awareness intact undoubtedly expands the potential for enjoyment.