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Analysis of Toni Cade Bambara the Lesson

Analysis of Toni Cade Bambara the Lesson

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Published by shack70
Analysis of Toni Cade Bambara's "The Lesson" for a short story college course
Analysis of Toni Cade Bambara's "The Lesson" for a short story college course

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Published by: shack70 on Mar 27, 2011
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Robert Shacklock Dr. Claudine Perreault42.212 – The Short StoryFebruary 16, 2011Essay #1 – Analysis of The LessonThe Lesson was first published in 1972 in the book “Gorilla, My Love”. “Gorilla,My Love” was a collection of fifteen short stories written between 1950 and 1970 byToni Cade Bambara. “The Lesson” is like other stories in “Gorilla, My Love” that all toldthrough a first-person point of view by a narrator who is often a tough, brave, and caringyoung girl.Toni Cade Bambara was born March 25, 1939 and grew up in Harlem, BedfordStuyvesant, and Queens New York. She graduated from Queens College in 1959 with aBachelors Degree in Theatre Arts/English Literature and completed her Masters Degreein American Studies at City College in New York. She eventually went on to teach atLivingston College in 1969 as an assistant professor of English. During her life, Bambarawas at the forefront of radical politics, African American Culture, and the feministmovement. Her writing exposes the injustices and inequalities imposed on AfricanAmericans, that mainstream America avoided.“The Lesson” is told in a first-person narrative be a character named Sylvia, aschool aged girl that lives in Harlem, New York during what the reader can assume is thelate 1960’s to early 1970’s based on the prices of certain items in the toy shop that isvisited in the story. Through Sylvia’s observations and language readers learn a great dealabout the environment Sylvia has grown up in as well as how she views the world.1
During the story Sylvia goes from being outspoken and sarcastic to reserve as Sylvialearns the lesson. In the story it is summer time and she is on summer vacation. Summer vacation for Sylvia is spending time at the park, at the show, and at the pool. This maysound ok, but as Silvia describes it the park is full of alcoholic bums. The apartmentwhere she lives is also littered with bums throughout the stairwells and hallways of her apartment building, most likely located in a project.During the story Sylvia and her cousin Sugar discover the uneven distribution of wealth that is part of American society. Even though they are cousins, Sugar and Sylviaare also good friends who have grown up together in the same poor conditions. By theend of the story Sylvia and Sugar are like the two sides of a coin. Sylvia takes the lessonwith her and puts it to use while Sugar forgets about it. The lesson is taught to them byMiss Moore, a college educated woman who tries to pass her knowledge to the childrenof the neighborhood. This is something Miss Moore does over the summer and her lessons are often hidden is situations or questions that she leads to children into.There are several other characters in the story such as Junebug, Flyboy, Fat Butt,Rosie Giraffe, Mercedes, and QT. Junebug is somewhat childish and most likely younger than Sylvia. Flyboy like Sylvia is outspoken. He is also smart; it is mentioned in thestory that he is able to manipulate white people in school in order to sympathize withhim. Flyboy’s brother is Fat Butt whose name is actually Ronald and is described bySylvia as a glutton. Ronald shows some interest in the microscope at FAO Swartz andcould have some academic potential if he were able to gain access to a better educationthan the inner city schools are likely to provide. Rosie like Silvia is outspoken. She is alsosomewhat aggressive towards Mercedes who tries to be more proper than the other 2
children and becomes the subjects of many jokes. Mercedes has things the other childrendo not have such as a desk and stationary that her godmother had given her. The jokesand aggression towards Mercedes may stem from jealousy over these items. Last is QTwho is younger than the other children but seems to understand the sailboat at FAOSwartz is very expensive after staring at it for a long time.On the surface “The Lesson” is simply a story about a woman, Miss Moore,taking a group of children on a field trip to FAO Swartz. “The Lesson” actually turns outto be a journey of discovery and responsibility for the children. The story starts andcoincidently ends at the mailbox. The mailbox may represent a place where mail andinformation is sent and received. From the mail box the story switches to a taxi ridewhere Miss Moore gives Sylvia five dollars to pay for the taxi. The taxi is a luxury thatthe children or their parents could not afford. Sylvia is not quite ready for theresponsibility of handling the money and shows it when she decides not to tip the taxidriver. Sylvia also fails to give the change from the taxi ride back to Miss Moore; thiswas another test of responsibility that Sylvia failed. In the end Miss Moore allows Sylviato keep the money as a gift that Sylvia would too proud to take any other way. After theTaxi ride the children realize they are on Fifth Avenue because of the fancy clothespeople are wearing. Sylvia says white people are crazy as she notices a woman in a fur coat in the middle of the summer. The children next stop outside FAO Swartz where theyjust look in the windows first. FAO Swartz is not a store the children or their parentswould be able to afford to shop in and Miss Moore lets them look until the children startrealizing the prices of the things in the window. This shows Miss Moore’s intelligenceand she does it to reinforce that this is a place they would not normally be able to shop at.3

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