Sylvia-"The Lesson," Dee--"Everyday Use," & Sonny--"Sonny's blues," which protagonist most successfully overcomes the difficulties of social setting?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Of the three short stories "The Lesson," by Toni Cade Bambara, "Sonny's Blues," by James Baldwin, and "Everyday Use," by Alice Walker, the character who seems as if he or she will be successful by overcoming obstacles in her way is Sylvia.

Sonny in "Sonny's Blues" is a talented young man, but society has already damaged him with its promotion of drug use by his "friends" from his neighborhood. The fact that his brother is a successful teacher, husband and father seems to be an exception. Even as the brother leaves work, he meets an old friend of Sonny's who is in rather bad shape himself. Listening to the conversation Sonny's brother has with this young man, we have little hope that Sonny will ever manage to be "whole" though he wants to be.

Dee in "Everyday Use" has allowed herself to be blinded to the importance of her heritage. Where "her people" have come from is a personal insult she refuses to ackowledge—she hates everything that has conspired in the past to subjugate the black race. She tries to pretend that it plays no part in her life—by taking an African name, wearing African dress, and rejecting the roots of her family. However, in doing so Dee also rejects every good thing that the people who have come before her have made possible for her, as well as the importance of her own family. She wants the quilt as nothing more than an accessory. However, her sister Maggie wants the quilt because of the "baggage" that comes with it—though for Maggie, it isn't something to be ashamed of, but provides a connection to her grandmother and her past. While Maggie is not nearly as "sophisticated" as Dee, she is much more grounded than Dee could ever imagine. Dee will not be "successful" because she has lost sight of who she is—which has come from those who have lived before her, fighting to survive so their descendants would have a better life than they had.

Sylvia, from "The Lesson," seems to be the character that will survive and be successful. She is exceedingly smart. She is also very strong—she stubbornly refuses to accept the Miss Moore's insights. While Sylvia infers that she will never need Miss Moore's wisdom, Sylvia doesn't miss a word of what is said. Her spirit is tenacious, and at the end of the story, she makes her position clear:

We start down the block and [Sugar] gets ahead which is O.K. by me cause I'm going to the West End and then over to the Drive to think this day through.

The first thing Sylvia is going to do is think about what she has seen at F.A.O. Schwarz, the store where a toy sailboat costs so much, that Sugar notes:

I don't think all of us here put together eat in a year what that sailboat costs.

Sylvia has to think, too, about what it all means. Sugar understands what Miss Moore is trying to say, but she does not internalize it (as far as we can tell). She runs off at the end planning to spend their money.

On the other hand, the experience (as much as she resists what Miss Moore is trying to do in educating the kids) has touched Sylvia's consciousness. It is as if some alien substance has been planted in Sylvia's mind that has taken root. Sylvia has to study and ponder what she has learned, though she would never admit it to anyone.

Finally, Sylvia shows the reader what she is made of: she may resist, but she will never let anyone or anything beat her down. And it seems as if we can believe her.

[Sugar] can run if she want to and even run faster. But ain't nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.

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