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Toni Cade Bambara was a renowned author, educator and civil rights activist. She created short stories that drew attention and awareness to the social, political and economic issues of her time. “Bambara always insisted that social commitment is inseparable from the production of art. ” (Andrews, Foster and Harris 22) “The Lesson”, published in 1972, is a short story from the collection, “Gorilla, My Love”. This story’s purpose was to bring the social inequalities that were prevalent within the urban community to the forefront of the minds of the readers.
The intention was not only to bring the issues to light, but to empower people to make the necessary changes in their lives and to “wake up and demand their share of the pie” (542). “The Lesson” introduces us to an undereducated group of children from a poor urban community and the woman who takes them through this journey of discovery, Miss Moore. The story is told through a first-person narrative by a young African American girl named Sylvia.
Sylvia is a tough, proud, stubborn child that keeps her true thoughts and emotions hidden away.
She begins the story by introducing us to Miss Moore, with whom she is not particularly fond of. Her opinion of Miss Moore seems to be largely affected by the influences of the adults in her life. This begins to show us how a lack of parental responsibility can affect the minds and perceptions of our children. I agree with this because my children emulate everything I do. As a single mother, all of their attention is on me and for the first few crucial years of development, I am their only teacher.
They will learn from these experiences and examples that we set .
The parents in “The Lesson” do not seem to be very responsible; the children are often pawned off on their aunt and they speak negatively of Miss Moore when she is not around. Miss Moore is an educated black woman who seeks to educate the children about the ways of the world. “She’d been to college and said it was only right that she should take responsibility for the young ones’ education” (537). She is the perfect example of a good role model. It is a summer day, Sylvia isn’t happy when Miss Moore gathers them up for yet another lesson.
On this particular day Miss Moore is asking the children questions concerning money. She explains to them about expenses and “how the money ain’t divided up right in this country” (538). They take a trip to Fifth Avenue to visit a F. A. O. Schwartz, a high end toy store. When they arrive she has them look through the window to view the displays. One of the children, Ronald, shows interest in a microscope that costs $300. They discuss how long it would likely take to afford it and one of them suggests that he would outgrow it first.
Miss Moore tells them “you never outgrow learning instruments” (539). Education is her next valid point, to be successful and change your way of life you need to be educated. You are never too old to get an education and improve your chances in a better life, and I am living proof of this. I have been out of school for twelve years and I want a better life for my family. I am back in school being a better role model and getting the skills needed to improve our quality of life They continue looking through the window of the store. Then, they see a sailboat priced at $1195.
They are all shocked, and now Miss Moore tells them it’s time to go inside. Miss Moore lets them take the lead. Sylvia is reluctant to go through the door, and she doesn’t understand it “I feel funny, shame. But what do I have to be shamed about? ” (541). As they make their way to the sailboat, everyone tip toeing around, afraid to touch anything- Sylvia compares it to a Catholic church. When they get there, Sylvia just stares at the price tag. Then, Sugar runs her fingers across the boat, making Sylvia jealous and angry. She hides the way she feels and lets Miss Moore know that she wants to leave.
The experience has opened her eyes to this other end of the spectrum of society. I believe this is to show how the other side lives to drive the readers to pursue more for themselves. While I understand the need for Bambara to use the extreme examples in the story, at the same time the costs are too extreme even for now. It is unrealistic; the majority of Americans could never afford to throw away that much money on a toy. As a child I was not as unfortunate as the children in this story, we started out in a trailer park and built up a better life for ourselves.
Even now, I never would have had a toy that costs as much as a car. On the way home Sylvia starts calculating and contemplating all the things that could be done with that amount of money- rent, bills, groceries, vacations. She wants to know who these people are and “what kind of work they do how they live and how come we ain’t in on it? ” (542). She is angry with Miss Moore for making her aware of her quality of life. When Miss Moore asks them about the day, Sugar responds clearly in a way that shows she understood the lesson. “This is not much of a democracy if you ask me.
Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough, don’t it? ” (543). Though Sylvia is stubborn and won’t reveal her thoughts you know she understands too. She knows that there is more out there for her and can strive to make her life better. She walks away thinking about the day and becomes empowered saying, “ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin. ” Though Toni Cade Bambara wrote this story about the African American communities in the 1960’s and the social inequalities that they faced- this story’s lessons are still extremely valid.
I fell that though she used extreme circumstances, they were necessary to paint the picture. Without the imagry the point wouldn’t have had the same impact. It is up to you to make the necessary changes in your life to succeed. Lead by example and don’t settle for less because your future is in your hands.
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