The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara Sparknotes

Toni Cade Bambara’s The Lesson is set in Harlem in the 1960s and told from the perspective of Sylvia, a young girl with a tough nature. She is, by all means, intelligent and spirited, but also bitter, cynical and naïve to many things in life and especially socioeconomic disparities in society. The story revolves around Sylvia, her friends, and Miss Moore, who moved into the neighborhood and took it upon herself to teach the children some lessons about life. On the particular day, the story begins; Miss Moore takes the children on a field trip to a toy store on the other side of town known as F.A.O. Schwartz. In the toy store, Miss Moore has them look around and with subtle prompts observes their reactions to what they see. It is from this event that Sylvia realized what makes her angry. She is angry that some people can get to spend more money than other families make annually on toys. Thanks to The Lesson, people look at things from a different perspective to get the bigger picture and adjust their actions to follow the pursuits.

The author uses characterization to contribute to the theme of the story by juxtaposition of characters with unlike traits and showing how they are affected by the events that make up the story. People may be averse to change and build psychological barriers preventing them from seeing things differently. Sylvia is a free spirited character while Miss Moore is meticulous in her actions and thought. Their interaction brings about a contrast that builds tension in the story and enables the theme to emerge as Miss Moore’s ideas take root in Sylvia. Sylvia and her friends desire childish things and mischievous adventure while Miss Moore has a higher purpose for them. The children find it difficult to focus their attention especially with Sylvia trying to get them to rouse trouble. On the other hand, Miss Moore is tactical and manages to reign them in and teach the lesson.

The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara Analysis

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Outside influence plays a significant role in facilitating change because outsiders have usually other perspectives to issues. In The Lesson, Sylvia does not like Miss Moore from the beginning because she is different. She wears her hair differently, dresses up smartly all of the time and does not go to church. Sylvia also feels intimidated by the fact that Miss Moore has a college education and describes her in the most unflattering terms. Miss Moore, however, manages to gain the trust of the children’s parents and shows the children what their parents were unable to do. While some may fault the methods, Miss Moore is successful in exposing the children to the differences in socioeconomic status. The author uses Miss Moore as perceived outsider to teach a lesson to the children that would otherwise not have sunk if it was taught by someone the children were used to.

In The Lesson, the author explores themes related to socioeconomic differences, and culture by the interaction of characters with highly dissimilar characteristics and interests. Sylvia and Miss Moore stand out in the story. While Miss Moore is a meticulous adult, Sylvia is a free spirited child with little concern for the future. The author shows how despite Sylvia’s attempt to ruin the lesson for herself and the others due to her nature, Miss Moore’s tactical demeanor succeeds in passing the message to her even though she pretends not to learn anything. The author capitalizes on the contrasting individualities of characters in the story to contribute to the theme of the story.

Works Cited

Bambara, Toni C. Gorilla, My Love. Vintage Books, 1992.