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"the Lesson" Analysis

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The lesson

By Toni Cade Bambara


“The Lesson” takes place in a time where equality was nothing but an idea, where blacks where still treated as inferiors because of the skin tone they were born with. “The lesson” is about a group of black children living in a slum being taken to market by their teacher as a school trip, where they will come to form their own ideas of their place in life by comparing the price tags on the luxury items around them to the money they get to spend themselves on such activities. The main character, Sylvia, comes to realise that she is at the lower end of society and becomes increasingly irritable and distant as the realisation forms, eventually running away to enjoy her day and hopefully forget the truth.


“And she’s boring us silly about … how money ain’t divided up right in this country”

This passage sets the stage for the rest of the story, the inequality in the world as well as Mrs. Moore’s struggle to make the children understand it. Furthermore, this is Sylvia’s first introduction to the above lesson, the inequality of their world. Sylvia’s reaction to this information was boredom, showing she either didn’t really understand these things like she claimed she did, or that she doesn’t really care. Either way, Sylvia makes it clear she has other things to worry about, such as the local barbeque, which is understandable due to her only being a child.

“But I feel funny, shame. …It’s like the time me and sugar crashed in to a catholic church on a dare”

This passage is Sylvia’s reaction to entering the toy store. Here, Sylvia says she feels ashamed to be here, and equates it to the time she crashed in to the church.  The holy atmosphere of the church made her feel like she wasn’t supposed to be there. And that is what’s happening here, Sylvia is coming to realise that she does not belong in this toy store with these expensive objects and these people who can afford them. Sylvia is beginning to understand that she doesn’t belong, that her and her friends are not as well off as these “white folk “are.

“We just stare at that price tag… I sure want to punch someone in the mouth”

Soon after entering the store, Sylvia expresses these emotions. As the realisation dawns on her, she becomes angry and like the child she is, wishes to satisfy this anger by fighting. She realises not only the truth of her place in society, but also that it is wrong. In contrast, her friends continue to browse the store fascinated by their surroundings. This shows that for her age and education, Sylvia is intelligent and has an understanding that the other children do not. This trait is also noted by her teacher who “[looks] dead at [Sylvia]” when asking the children what they learned today, showing that she picked up on Sylvia’s intellect and change in mood.



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