“The Lesson” is the short story written by Toni Cade Bambara and its main topic is the social and economic inequality. This inequality can be seen in the position of the children and their families in the society. Miss Moore is also teaching them about social and economic inequality in her private lessons which happen during summer. The children symbolize the innocence and the young who are supposed to be educated about the world and about all of the injustice.
The world functions in such a way that there are the privileged and the under-privileged groups of people. In “The Lesson”, there is a group of African-American children whose tutor, Miss Moore, tries to educate them on poverty using their own examples. She wants them to understand that they do not stand a chance in the world and that they will always be the less fortunate people, like their parents. Miss Moore is a self-proclaimed tutor who giver herself the privilege of lecturing the children on life. She also gives them classes in mathematics and arithmetic, but she takes pleasure in her lessons on life and its injustices. “She’d been to college and said it was only right that she should take responsibility for the young one’s education, and she not even related by marriage or blood” (Bambara 96). It is not easy to see why the parents would allow Miss Moore to educate their children, but it might be due to the fact that she offers free education and that she is an African-American as well.
Miss Moore is insecure and she also comes from a background which is under-privileged although she went to college. This is why she believes to have the right to lecture other people’s children on life. It seems that she is not married and that she does not have children, which is why she wants to spoil happiness for the families that are happy in spite of being poor. She is creating the need to have material things within the children and she is lecturing them on the worth of money. The children are not so naïve and they know that the things Miss Moore is showing them are not something they need it life. “My eyes tell me it’s a chunk of glass cracked with something heavy, and different-color inks dripped into the splits, then the whole thing put into a oven or something. But for $480 it don’t make sense” (Bambara 98). Sylvia is a smart girl and she would not give that kind of money for a paperweight.
Miss Moore has the goal to exert her dominance over children because they are the only ones she can tutor. She is all alone in the world and she can only be in charge of children under the disguise of teaching them important things about life. Miss Moore does not have a regular work position and the children’s families let her teach their children. Sylvia says: “I’d much rather go to the pool or to the show where it’s cool” (Bambara 96). Miss Moore’s lecture about money is pointless because most of the children are aware of the fact that money is not as important as she is trying to present it. They cherish other things in life more than money which is why Miss Moore does not have the right. “Parents silly to buy something like that just to get all broke up,” say Rosie Giraffe” (Bambara 99). It is clear that she takes children to the store which sells expensive toys in order to show them what they are missing in life because they come from the lower social class. She promotes consumerism and not the real values in life which is why this trip is a failure.
It is cruel to show children what they might never be able to purchase especially due to the fact that it is completely unnecessary. Sylvia understands this which is why she says: “What I want to know is”, I says to Miss Moore though I never talk to her, I wouldn’t give the bitch that satisfaction, “is how much a real boat costs I figure a thousand’d get you a yacht any day” (Bambara 99). Sylvia has a right in proving to Miss Moore that toys are irrelevant and that only real things in life matter. Moreover, life is not about objects, it is about feelings and about the company of people who matter. Miss Moore wants to prove to the children that the world is cruel and that they will never be able to shop luxury products, but the children do not even care because they know what is important in life and it is not money.
Sylvia is the person who despises their tutor the most because she is aware of Miss Moore’s superficiality. Moreover, all of the children are aware of the fact that they do not need expensive toys to be happy because being outside in the summer makes them happy enough. Miss Moore is trying to make herself feel better by making the children realize how poor they are and that they do not stand a chance for equality in the world order as it is. “So we heading down the street and she’s boring us silly about what things cost and what our parents make and how much goes for rent and how money ain’t divided up right in this country” (Bambara 97). The children are already aware of the social and economic inequality and the lecture given by Miss Moore is malicious. She seems to be comforting herself by showing the children what they cannot buy, but she is mistaken because of the fact that the children know that they can buy less expensive toys or even make them themselves which also fosters their creativity.
“The Letter” is about the racial and gender inequalities as well because Miss Moore is a college educated woman who is unsuccessful and bitter. “African Americans and women were struggling to gain equality, not only economically but socially as well. African Americans and women were fighting politically to overcome the consequences of a racist and sexist society” (Champion 1). African-American women were the most under-privileged class and that is why Bambara’s characters are almost all female.
The fact that all of the characters in the story are poor is related to the fact that they are black. Sylvia says: “And she’s looking very closely at me like maybe she planning to do my portrait from memory. I’m mad, but I won’t give her that satisfaction” (Bambara 100). She has a conflict with Miss Moore, but she is too smart to let it escalate which is why she is focused on outsmarting the tutor and that is the best thing to do.
Everybody has a chance in life and a good education and a lot of effort have to help people make a change. Their backgrounds should not matter because of the fact that the world is becoming more diverse all the time. Capitalism divides people into classes and Miss Moore is bothered by that, but she has no right in trying to make children feel miserable because of the fact that their parents have no money.” In Sylvia's narrative, Miss Moore, a black, college-educated neighbor, takes some ghetto kids from Harlem on a day trip by taxi to downtown Manhattan to broaden their understanding of money and economics and to show them how deprived they are” (Graves 214). It only means that they will have to try harder in life if they want to succeed.
There is a lesson which the smartest people learn from early childhood and it is related to the fact that a person needs to do their best in life. “Sylvia is not merely disillusioned at the end of the story: she is changed in a way that promises hope for her ability to respond effectively to the newly discovered reality she faces” (Cartwright 61). Other children are also aware of the fact that they do not need to have expensive things in life to be happy. They are only children and they deserve to play and be carefree, but Miss Moore wants to teach them about the difficulties in life. “The initial and primary conflict of the story is not that of rich versus poor, but that between Miss Moore and Sylvia” (Cartwright 62). Sylvia doubts that Miss Moore thinks well for them and she is right in that thinking because children should be encouraged to study and be the best versions of themselves and not lectured on inequality in the world because that is something they will figure out themselves.
All of the characters are black and so is Sylvia which can be seen from the way she talks. “The young narrator's language makes her ethnicity quite clear in its phonology, morphology, lexicon, and syntax” (Heller 280).There is the older Sylvia telling the story and there is the young Sylvia who is the protagonist and the narrator which is why a young girl sounds so mature at times.
“The Lesson” teaches people about the racial, gender, social and economic inequalities and the story is set on a field trip to the store which sells toys. This would have been fun if the children were from rich backgrounds. However, the point Miss Moore is trying to make is that all of them are poor and that they will never have a chance to change anything in life. Sylvia is the only person who understands both life and Miss Moore and she seems to learn about life by arguing with Miss Moore more than by listening to her lectures. The final result is that Miss Moore is useful in one way or another and the children are lucky to know so much about the world from an early age.
Heller, Janet R. "Toni Cade Bambara's Use of African American Vernacular English in 'The Lesson'." Style 37.3 (2003): 279-93. MLA International Bibliography . Web. 25 Apr. 2016. <| http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=2004871947&site=ehost-live >.
Bambara, Toni C. "The Lesson." Literature: The Human Experience: Reading and Writing. Ed. Richard Abcarian, Marvin Klotz, and Samuek Cohen. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012. 96-101. Print.
Cartwright, Jerome. "Bambara's THE LESSON." Explicator 47.3 (1989): 61-63. Print.
Graves, Roy N. "Bambara's 'The Lesson'." Explicator 66.4 (2008): 214-17. Print.
Champion, Laurie. "Literary Contexts in Short Stories: Toni Cade Bambara's "The Lesson"." Understanding Literature -- Literary Contexts in Poetry & Short Stories (2006): 1. Print.