Throughout the short story “The Lesson,” Toni Cade Bambara uses a first person writing style, as well as specific characters to emphasize her ideas, and further prove her point. Bambara illustrates what it is like for African American kids growing up, and the overall issue of class, and inequality that African Americans are still facing today. The author successfully states her claim, and by writing in first person, through the character Sylvia, the reader can make a more in depth analysis of the thoughts, behaviors, and interactions of inner city African American kids.
Sylvia, the narrator in this story, reveals the true nature of a kid growing up. Sylvia is often found going off topic, making grammar and spelling errors, and complaining with inappropriate language. Within the first paragraph the reader finds Sylvia complaining and swearing about her new neighbor, Miss Moore. Sylvia even goes of topic enough to compare Miss Moore to a garbage man. When describing the setting in the second paragraph, Sylvia states that it is “puredee hot.
” It is obvious that she made a grammatical error, in which she meant “pretty hot. ” Though it may seem strange for grammar errors, and irrelevant stories being told, it further emphasizes that Sylvia is an ordinary inner city kid, with a lack of discipline, and education. Miss Moore decides to have a teaching moment with the kids about the social inequality and uneven distribution of wealth. She proclaims to the kids that the live in poverty, and that they are in the slums of society.
Sylvia in her own thoughts does not agree with Miss Moore’s statement. So Miss Moore decides to take Sylvia and several of her friends to a toy store further out of town. When the children enter the store, they quickly find out that everything is out of their price range, so they move onto another store. This is when more is revealed about Sylvia. When she reaches the entrance of the next toy store, she hesitates to go in. It’s at this time she feels shy and shameful about going into this toy store.
This is considered the turning point in the story, in which Sylvia is beginning to realize that she does live in poverty, and that many others are more fortunate than she is. Though she knows she has the right to enter the toy store, she feels as if she doesn’t belong here, and she does not feel welcomed. But in the last sentence in the story, Sylvia states “But ain’t nobody gunna beat me at nothing. ” This is Sylvia’s claim that she will not stay in the lower end society, and that she is not going to leapt her class be a barrier.
This is exactly “The Lesson” that Miss Moore is trying to teach. She is suggesting that just because there is an equality of race, does not mean that there is an equality of class. And though it may seem that “The Lesson” is directed towards Sylvia and the other children, the real lesson is being direct towards the audience. This is a successful attempt by the author to make greater awareness of uneven distribution of social classes.
In conclusion, Sylvia is depicted as a young undereducated African American who is exposed to a whole other spectrum of the social ladder. When this occurs she feels unwelcome in this higher end society, and is shy and shameful. It is at this time she realizes that she does live in poverty, and that she will not be held back because of it. Toni Bambara used the character Sylvia to spread her ideas about the differences found in social classes. Though it may have seemed as if Sylvia was the one receiving “The Lesson,” the audience is actually the one being taught.