Point of view is an essential element to a reader’s comprehension of a story. The point of view shows how the narrator thinks, speaks, and feels about any particular situation. In Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson,” the events are told through the eyes of a young uptown girl named Sylvia. The reader gets a limited point of view because the events are told strictly by Sylvia. This fact can influence the reader to see things just as she does. The strong language gives a unfamiliar reader an illustration of how people in the city speak. Bambara does this to show a different kind of life that may be new to the reader and may aid in the comprehension of the street life.
The reader gets a sense of Sylvia’s personality in the very beginning of the story as she talks about Miss Moore. Sylvia’s opinion of her is not one of fondness. She says that she hates Miss Moore as much as the “winos who pissed on our handball walls and stand up on our hallways and stairs so you couldn’t halfway play hide-and-seek” (307). By comparing the hatred to something she enjoys, we see what a kid in the slums does for fun. Sylvia feels that Miss Moore always plans “boring-ass things for us to do” (307).
Miss Moore seems to be different from what Sylvia is use to. Sylvia harps on the fact that Miss Moore is educated. This shows that Sylvia is not use to being around educated people. She dislikes the fact that Miss Moore is a woman with “nappy hair and proper speech with no makeup”(307). Sylvia continues to describe her as a “nappy head bitch and her goddamn college degree” and would rather do things that are fun instead of listening to her.
Miss Moore attempts to teach the children about the difference of how some people spend money. Sylvia feels insulted and thinks Miss Moore is calling them “retards” when she asks the group do they know what money is. The first lesson is to figure out how much of a tip they are suppose to leave the cab driver. Sylvia wants to keep the money and jump out of the cab and spend the money on some barbeque. Theft seems to be a common feature within the group. Later, when they are at the store, Sugar asks “can we steal” (308).
Miss Moore shows the kids the prices of several objects and they are amazed at some of the costs. They try to figure out how long they could save up to
buy things such as a thirty five-dollar birthday clown. The children think about how thirty-five dollars would be used to buy necessities instead of luxuries. The kids think that only white people would buy the objects that they see. Rosie Giraffe says that “white folks” are crazy in the way they spend money. This exemplifies the difference in the standard of living from one part of society to another.
Ultimately, Bambara wants to show the reader that there is a different view of life through the eyes of someone from the city. The attitude of Sylvia and her friends is an attribute to their surroundings. The lesson that they learn is one that the reader receives also. Bambara shows how some people can spend money on items that seem unimportant to the kids. Sylvia appears to brush off the whole experience by constantly criticizing Miss Moore and thinking negative thoughts of her.
In the end, the reader can see that Sylvia has soaked up some of the events and wants to strive to have some of the finer things. The fact that “ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin” shows that Sylvia is going to be the best of anything she pursues (312). Bambara wants the reader to see that there is another type of lifestyle in the city. It is not to belittle Sylvia and her peers just to show that there is a difference of values. In this novel, that value is the difference of spending money.