“The Lesson” – Toni Bambara

Throughout The Lesson, Toni Bambara’s use of profane vernacular and hostility sets the tone by allowing the reader to step in the scene of the socioeconomic instability that the characters are living in. It has been pointed out that when Bambara’s story is read, readers get the idea that she is trying to portray the message of success as being feasible for anyone as long as they have the will to succeed – work hard, get rich and if you’re the best, you will rise to the top. From digging deeper and looking from a personal standpoint, I see that that is completely wrong.

Bambara introduces a riveting character, Miss. Moore, who takes a group of neighborhood children around while “[their] mothers [are] up in a la-de-da apartment up the block having a good time” (Bambara 73). From the start Sylvia, who is the oldest and leader of the group, is disgusted by the educated persona that Miss. Moore possesses; she is one of a kind and definitely seen as a threat to Sylvia due to her college degree, which is something that the only “dumb shit [foolish]” people would agree to (73).

Guiding them through the city, she takes them to a high dollar toy store where “people can spend on a toy what it would cost to feed a family of six or seven” (79). The children are bewildered and state that “parents are silly to buy something like that just to get all broke up” (76). With that statement, Bambara is immediately showing the readers the divide between the two groups of people identified in this story: lower class and upper class. As the children walk in the story, “on tiptoe and hardly touching the games and puzzles and things”, Miss. Moore is mentally finalizing her lesson (77)

It .is so simple to misconstrue the theme of the story because the idea of meritocracy has been chiseled into the minds American people. The idea of The Lesson, to me, is that learning does not always have to be inside of a school building. Because the children don’t have the access to obtain higher learning (the children rarely do their homework) or financial stability, Miss. Moore utilizes herself as an accessible tool, as well as the things around them to create a better understanding of society. Sylvia’s anger progress as she is introduced the the other side of life, seemingly so because it seems as if the people in upper class don’t provide aid to those who need. They have no worries and can spend thousands on toys. There is no truth to “equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough” as Sugar stated (79). With their one venture, Sylvia realizes her family and friends true deficits: financially and mentally.


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