The Lesson


Analysis of the Themes in the Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

What does it take a child to understand the concepts of social inequality and the understanding of poverty? The importance of education seems to be dismissed by the youth without realizing its value to economic success. The story also portrays the inner vulnerability of the children becoming aware of the unknown truths. The Lesson is a short story written by Toni Cade Bambara, about low-income children learning a valuable lesson that applies to today’s society. Miss Moore, who takes it upon herself to educate the children takes them to a toy store that is beyond their dreams but economically unreachable at their age. The children specifically, Sylvia was more aware of her situation and social status in society in the process. The themes that are presented in this short story are social inequality, the unspoken problem of poverty, the importance of education, and finally becoming aware.

Social inequality still exists in today’s society, as a matter of fact, studies reveal that the income gap continues to grow between the rich and the poor according to the New York Times article. “Imagine for a minute what kind of society it is in which some people can spend on a toy what it would cost to feed a family of six or seven”. This expresses how uneven income has become distributed over many people, especially lower-income families. “The higher the U.S. income group, the larger the share of that income is derived from investment profits. By contrast, Americans who are not among the ultra-rich get the vast majority of their income from wages and salaries. This disparity has contributed significantly to increasing inequality because of the preferential tax treatment of long-term capital gains”. This states the growing problem of social inequality among the United States, the real question is how will society address now? It seems that the probability of change is dim but at least being aware of the problem can alter our minds about capitalism in today’s society.

Poverty, the state of being extremely poor. Poverty can also be defined as the human condition of being unable to obtain or provide a standard level of food, water, and shelter. “And then she gets to the part about we all poor and live in the slums which I don’t feature”. This shows, in the story that Sylvia is not aware of her community is living in poverty since she is still is not at all aware of her surroundings as well as not knowing why are the way things are around her. This further demonstrates the little knowledge she had of her community’s situation. “Poverty does not strike all demographics equally. For example, in 2018, 10.6% of men, and 12.9% of women lived in Poverty USA. Along the same lines, the poverty rate for married couples in 2018 was only 4.7% – but the poverty rate for single-parent families with no wife present was 12.7%, and for single-parent families with no husband present was 24.9%. In 2018, the poverty rate for people living with a disability was 25.7%. That’s nearly 4 million people living with a disability — in poverty.” This shows the growing problem of poverty in our society in the United States alone. The illusion that everything is fine in our society is masked with social media to not make us aware of the situation, for example, Instagram is perfect for showing people’s lives as more than it actually is. For the most part, The lesson, by Toni Cade Bambara opens the subject perfectly by bringing up the topic throughout the story, clearly stating that the children come from low-income families living in poverty. Poverty in today’s society should not be ignored or altered to make it look not as bad as it actually is.

The importance of education seems to be dismissed by the youth without realizing its value to economic success even more in today’s society. Many can say that nowadays people, the youth does not see the value of education with so much technology or social media. It is easy to say that many believe that they can get rich through Instagram or Facebook without educating themselves first. According, to, every year as many as 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States alone. “What kind of work they do and how they live and how come we ain’t in on it?- Poor people have to wake up”’. This expresses the question on what people should be aware of to fight for better opportunities, using their resources to educate themselves and move forward, only then would there be a chance to reach the pursuit of happiness, democracy. Education does increase income. Workers with less than a high school diploma are the lowest earners on average compared to those who do have a high school diploma they are earning bump up to 5.4%, according to smart asset an article by Amelia Josephson, who holds degrees from Columbia and Oxford, as well as writes on financial literacy topics. This shows how education plays a major role in getting better opportunities from general education or higher. Miss Moore in the story is a perfect example, of what is offered here in the United States which is free education. However, is it up to the youth to learn its value and why education is important.

Finally, the other theme presented in “The Lesson”, is a very interesting one; inner vulnerability. Inner vulnerability means being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, it could be physically or emotionally. “I kinda hang back. Not that I’m scared, what’s there to be afraid of, just a toy store. But I feel funny, shame. But what I got to be ashamed about? Got as much right to go in as anybody.” Sylvia in the short story portrays herself as a sophisticated, smart, strong, unafraid individual. However, that is not the case, she clearly states feeling ashamed and intimidated by the new environment that surrounds her, which is an expensive toy store in a higher up class community. As we all know, human beings like to fit into their environment to not feel out of place, we may feel afraid of what others may say or feel. “Association with vulnerability requires a shift in awareness in order to strengthen your emotional well-being. It is no use erecting barricades around you while hoping at the same time others will see the blossoming flower within. The wall you construct prevents your true nature from being known to others.” This explains that without inner vulnerability, people may not grow emotionally to flourish in their environment for the better. For example, Sylvia’s inner vulnerability did not only teach her a lesson of her surrounding but it also gave her a different perspective. Whatever she may choose to do with what she gained from the lesson is up to her but now she is more aware than before.

What does it take a child to understand the concepts of social inequality and the understanding of poverty? Experience. The importance of education, inner vulnerability, ties back to social inequality and fully understanding poverty among lower-income families by making us aware. These themes are presented In the short story of The Lesson, by Toni Cade Bambara’s, making us aware of topics people may not want to discuss, deal with or may not even know about. It is interesting how all these themes are so closely tied together and how they are still very relevant to this day.

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The Idea Of Hands On Learning In The Lesson By Toni Cade Bambara

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Hands on learning is a form of education in which the children learn something by actually doing it themselves. Instead of the teacher lecturing students about a certain subject or them taking tedious notes, the children engage in the subject and try to figure it out themselves by the use of their hands or experiencing it firsthand. Hands on learning has proven to be very beneficial to students. In “The Lesson” the author uses the literary device of characterization, through Sylvia’s character to greater develop the central idea that hands on learning is beneficial to students. Throughout the story it shows how her character further develops and she becomes more mature from learning the lesson Miss Moore tries to teach her. Miss Moore teaches her this lesson through hands on learning by taking the children to F.A.O Schwartz to experience the inequality first hand. At the end of the story the readers can see how Miss Moore opened her mind up to the inequalities in life and how Sylvia’s character has changed from it, proving hands on learning is beneficial.

The author develops this central idea when Miss Moore brings the children to F.A.O Schwartz, a toy store to teach them a lesson. There, Sylvia and the other children see other families able to buy $1,000 sailboats when in contrast they aren’t able to afford anything in the store and even struggle with affording life’s necessities. In the store, they see a $1,000 sailboat wealthy people are able to afford meanwhile if they wanted a sailboat they would “buy a sailboat set for a quarter at Pop’s, a tube of glue for a dime, and a ball of string for eight cents”. Sylvia sees what life is like outside of their poor little neighborhood and how wealthy people live. She is able to compare her life with others as seen in the quote before. Miss Moore takes the children to the city so they can experience the outside world first hand and see it for themselves, hands on learning. The use of this literary device, characterization, helps develop the central idea of the story because it shows how Sylvia learns/understands this lesson. It shows how she becomes more mature and aware of the world around her and it opens her mind to the world outside her neighborhood.

When Sylvia first sees how wealthy people live, she feels a sense of shame for living in poverty and not being able to afford what rich people can afford so easily. She says, “But I feel funny, shame. But what I got to be ashamed about? Got as much right to go in as anybody.” Initially, Sylvia refuses to acknowledge her inferior standing in society and that she is a victim of poverty. She is furious seeing how wealthy people live and is resistant to change. Sylvia is satisfied with her life, referring to herself and the other children as “the only ones just right” in the neighborhood. Miss Moore takes the children to the toy store so Sylvia is able to experience and see it for herself how other people live. She tries to teach the children the lesson of the inequality that exists in the world and if they want to be more than their parents in life, they must work hard and strive to become educated. Miss Moore wants Sylvia to look at her low social status as a bad thing, something she should desire to get out of and Sylvia “doesn’t feature that.” Sylvia doesn’t see anything wrong with how she lives now and does not refer to herself as poor or underprivileged. At the end of the story, the readers are able to see how she changes and she begins to accept the real state of things. This acceptance shows how her character has learned the lesson Miss Moore has taught her through hands on learning. Sylvia wants to take action against the inequalities in life that she experienced firsthand and ensures that “ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.” She wants to rise above the inequalities in her life and wants to strive to get out of her low social standing.

The central idea of “The Lesson” is that hands on learning is beneficial which is proven throughout the story. The use of the literary device, characterization through Sylvia’s character further proves this idea. The readers are able to see how she matures and becomes more aware of the world around her after being able to experience how other people live for herself and seeing the inequalities that exist. Miss Moore uses the educational strategy of hands on learning, to help teach Sylvia this lesson. It shows how beneficial it is through Sylvia’s character development and awareness of the world around her at the end of the story.

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The Importance Of Education And Equality In The Lesson By Toni Cade Bambara

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Throughout history, society has set a standard for not only minors but minorities also. Things like education, money, equality and basic rights were not granted to certain races much later than others. In this story, these African American children learn the importance in the value of money and being educated. Toni Cade Bambara presents a wide range of themes and analytical ‘’lessons’’ through and to the characters of this story. In this short story, these children broadcast the cultural and systematic issues that not only people but African Americans in particular face on a daily. ‘’The Lesson’’ shows the importance of education and equality.

Not only do education play a huge role throughout your life, it is very vital because the outcome of the knowledge you acquired from the valuable ‘’lessons’’ you learn are mostly outside classroom. Yet, Sylvia is hostile towards the white upper class because she feels they are more privileged than ‘’her people’’. Bambara uses an uneducated and innocent dialogue to show the society inequalities and the hostile attitudes and behaviors which result from it.

It being the 1970’s and having children like, the protagonist, Syliva tell the story with such innocence and honesty sets a great tone throughout this story. Simple things like seeing the price difference and quality in their toys compared to toys that ‘’could feed up to a family of six’’ showed the children social equality. Sylvia and her classmates understand that it’s a wide range in difference within a white household in contrast to a black house hold. Not only did we lack on educating our youth but also certain situations and how they show great symbolism hence why Syliva pretty much have the answer to everything. Miss Moore utilize this trip to give a clear examples on this unjust economic society that created one-sided access and laws to equal money and equal resources for black Americans.

The ‘’lesson’’ on this economic inequality is almost deemed resentful to the children, but they also become curious to open themselves up to the ‘’lessons’’ dawned on them by Miss Moore. Sylvia seeks solitude by the end of the day however has found a way to direct her anger and issues by saying ‘ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin,’

Sugar and Sylvia are cousins and also good friends who have grown up together in the same poor conditions. By the end of the story Sylvia and Sugar are like the two sides of a coin. Sylvia takes the lesson with her and puts it to use while Sugar forgets about it. However. there are several other characters in the story such as Junebug, Flyboy, Fat Butt, Rosie Giraffe, Mercedes, and QT. Junebug is childish and most likely younger than Sylvia. Flyboy, like Sylvia, is outspoken. He is also smart; it is mentioned in the story that he is able to manipulate white people in school in order to ‘’sympathize’’ with him. Flyboy’s brother is Fat Butt whose name is actually Ronald and is described by Sylvia as a glutton. Ronald shows some interest in the microscope at FAO Swartz and could have some academic potential if he were able to gain access to a better education than the inner city schools are likely to provide. Rosie like Silvia is outspoken. She is also somewhat aggressive towards Mercedes who tries to be more proper than the other children and becomes the subjects of many jokes. Mercedes has things the other children do not have such as a desk and stationary that her godmother had given her. The jokes and aggression towards Mercedes may stem from jealousy over these petty items. Last is QT who is younger than the other children but seems to understand the sailboat at the giftshop is very expensive after staring at it for a long time. This story emphasizes that individuals who are segregated to certain environments are clueless about the outside world and the real value of money and it is up to Miss. Moore and themselves to show and prove that there is more to life than poverty and the lower class.

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The Lesson By Toni Cade Bambara: Sylvia’s Character Analysis

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

“The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara, is a short story about a girl who is learning about the economic inequality that exists through her teacher, Miss Moore, who tries to challenge her cynical perspective on life. This story emphasises the main character, Sylvia’s, intense need for control. One major personality trait that this character has is her strong-willed nature. She is determined to make her own decisions and is not willing to listen to anybody but herself. Sylvia also is constantly displaying this need for control by her surly attitude and fierce disposition throughout the entire short story. She can become very vulgar and rude to anyone that is above her and expresses this through her harsh words. Furthermore, she is also very critical and judgmental to her peers and the authority figure in her life. Overall, Sylvia’s strong-willed, surly, and judgmental disposition emphasizes her intense need to be in control of her life.

Sylvia is a very strong-willed character that is constantly striving to make her own decisions. When Miss Moore is asking the children if they know what real money is Sylvia lets the teacher know that she is tired of this. She says that she would rather wreak havoc on the West Indian kids, and suggests that they go to the subway where it is cooler. This displays Sylvia’s independence and determination despite the fact that the teacher is actually in charge. She is constantly resisting authority because she wants to call all of the shots. This trait persists throughout the story. After a long day of looking at grossly overpriced toys, Sylvia says, “Ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin”. By saying this, the main character is expressing that she is not going to settle with being poor or considered less than that of the people who can afford to shop in the overpriced store. Conclusively, Sylvia’s strong determination and inability to follow authority makes her feel like she is in control.

Sylvia is also very surly throughout the entirety of the story. She is constantly getting fired up at her teacher, Miss Moore. For example, when she asks another student if she has any school supplies at home, Sylvia gets angry. She thinks to herself, “She know damn well what our homes look like cause she nosys around in them every chance she gets”. This shows that she is very sensitive about being judged on how much money her family and community has. Another example of her bad tempered demeanor is when she asks Miss Moore a question but in her head she says, “I never talk to her, I wouldn’t give the bitch that satisfaction”. She is vulgar when it comes to how she really thinks of Miss Moore. To sum it up, the vulgarity and surly nature of Sylvia shows how she resents being told what to do and will not allow others to make decisions for her.

Finally, the main character is very judgmental to the people around her because she doesn’t like change. For example, when Miss Moore first moves into town Sylvia is put out by it. She says, “and quite naturally we laughed at her, laughed the way we did at the junk man who went about his business like he was some big time president and his sorry ass horse his secretary”. She also goes on to say, “and we kinda hated her too, hated the way we did the winos who cluttered up our parks and pissed on our handball walls and stank up our hallways and stairs so you couldn’t halfway play hide-and-seek without a goddamn gas mask”. She is very unaccepting of anything new and different. This could mean that she feels threatened by Miss Moore because she might skew the path she wants to take. A new authoritative figure is not something that Sylvia feels is necessary because she wants to decide what is best for her, and a nosy teacher is not part of her plan.

Bambara creates a straightforward story in her narrative, “The Lesson,” that expresses everybody’s desire to create their own destiny. This universal theme is expressed through the main character, Sylvia. However, Sylvia seems to carry this out in interesting and sometimes questionable ways. The three main characteristics that this story expresses is Sylvia’s strong-willed, surly, and judgmental nature. For example, the main character is very resistant towards Miss Moore because she is unwilling to listen to anyone but herself. She also expresses her feelings in a very vulgar, surly way. Additionally, she often uses profanity to express her distaste towards her teacher. Finally, Sylvia is very judgmental towards anything new that comes into her life, and she lashes out by criticising every aspect of the change. Overall, Syliva is strong willed, surly, and judgmental and she behaves this way because she is determined to create the life she wants, even if she is not making the right choices.

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The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara: the Struggles of African American Women after the Civil War

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

But ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nothing’ is an ironic choice of words coming from a lower-class young African American girl growing up in the brutal streets of in New York City. In the short story, ‘The Lesson’ Toni Cade Bambara illustrates the lack of opportunities for African American women after the civil war. Being a woman of color limited one’s socioeconomic class and suppressed the importance of self-motivation in one’s life. Bambara grew up in two of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods, Harlem and Bedford. The trails, tribulations and moments of uncertainty she faced are illustrated in this short story.

Bambara transposes these difficulties in her personal life into to a short story written in the third person limited, then transitions to third person omniscient, an intriguing point of view not typically chosen by literary writers. Sylvia, the protagonist in this short story must decide between letting her socioeconomic status limit her or push herself to reach places she never thought possible. The motivation behind this short story is to provide readers with an awareness of the different social classes that cause cultural decides within communities. Although Sylvia was born into poverty it did not restrict her ability to turn her life into something meaningful.

The narrow-minded characteristic of Sylvia limits her capability in interpersonal skills, causing her to avoid lessons that would benefit her personally. Sylvia’s animosity toward her antagonist, Ms. Moore, undermines the impact she would have had on Sylvia life toward the end of the short story. From the beginning, you can feel the annoyance Sylvia has towards Ms. Moore’s common but educational ramblings. For instance, Silvia states, ‘She’s boring us silly about what things costs… how money ain’t divided right in this country she gets to the part about we all are poor and live in the slums, which I don’t feature. And I’m ready to speak on that’. Although someone might think of Sylvia as an ignorant child raised in ‘slums’, doomed from the day she was born, I think of her as a young afraid woman who is scared to face reality or step out of her comfort zones. Bambara wants to point out the lack of knowledge and exposure minorities had after the conclusion of the Civil War, conveying that living in the ‘slums’, and being poor, was ordinary, normal and acceptable. This marks the beginning of the conflict. Though Bambara implicitly states as much, Ms. Moore is the gateway to knowledge for Sylva.

The persistence of Ms. Moore is teaching about the relative prices of toys in the ‘Slums’ as compared to those on display in wealthier neighborhood eventually cracks the surface of Sylvia’s thick skin. The vivid imagery inside the F.A.O Schwarz store creates a moment of suspense and longing as Sylvia looks through the glass of the store. However, as she ponders the price of the expensive toys, she comes to understand that these can only be purchased by the wealthy, which she clearly is not. The reality of life’s skewed economic privileges takes effect and begins to shake Sylvia’s unbreakable spirit. This is where the conflict begins. Sylvia contends, ‘But I feel a funny shame. But what I got to be shamed about? Got as much right to go in as anybody. But somehow I can’t seem to get hold of the door’. By focusing only on present moment, Sylvia overlooks the lesson Ms. Moore is trying to convey: the impact behind finding inspiration and motivation as a tool to achieve accomplishments in life eventually being able to buy things you couldn’t when you were unable to. Although, Sylvia hates the concept behind college education, she is beginning to realize and understand that she has the power to change the circumstances she is currently living in. As a matter of fact, Sylvia states, ‘But it don’t have to necessarily has to be that way, she always adds then waits for somebody to say that poor people has to wake up and demand the piece of the pie’. In spite of the fact, that Miss Moore centers on the immense hole between the abundance of New York City’s tip top and the neediness of their neighbors, Bambara calls attention to the monetary inconsistencies exist within Sylvia’s circle of companions. Albeit none of the kids can bear the cost of the toys in F.A.O. Schwarz, there is, in reality, some decent variety in their salaries.

Sylvia inversely accepts the possibility of change in the stagnant socioeconomic status defined by minorities in New York after the Civil War. Sylvia points out, ‘Something weird is going on in my chest’. That ‘weird’ feeling is an understanding that they are going to reside within an existence in poverty, the inverse of being wealthy. Considering this, their unfortunate situation does not prevent them from accomplishing more; it does, however, put a few questions they may have had into context. Without the possibility of instruction like this, they may have stayed ignorant of this information. To have the young children talk about this straightforwardly to each other is a critical development. Notwithstanding her initial negative reaction to the trip, Sylvia’s opportunity to witness the huge difference among rich and poor appears to move her to work harder. Toward the end, she thinks ‘Ain’t no one going to beat me at nuthin”. Overall, the treachery has helped her rationalize her outrage.

In Bambara’s short story ‘The Lesson’, she promotes self-evaluation and encourages people to embrace change with healthy acceptance. To complete this task, one must ask oneself “What is wrong?” What is missing in one’s life on a literal, moral and group level. The misconception behind is that even though one has control over one’s life, it’s hard to say that moving up the socioeconomic ladder is realistic. Although, motivation is an important factor when trying to overcome an obstacle what’s missing is how does one encounter people who are willing to share the importance of education in a neighborhood lacking knowledge. Also, the acceptance of failure and how we can learn from it is also an important moral lesson. But in the end that might be Bambara’s goal to emphasize the importance of motivation and remaining optimistic realizing that knowledge can come from people who you least expected. No matter how big the dream you’re not going to let anybody beat you at nothing.

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