Define the nature of the conflict between the narrator, Sylvia, and Miss Moore in The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara.

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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The nature of the conflict between the two characters is defined by the different perceptions each has of her own reality in contrast with that of the other. Miss Moore clearly means well and wishes to create an awareness within her students of their place in society within a socioeconomic framework and how they can improve their lot. It is clear that she wishes to motivate them and wants to encourage critical thinking so that they may realize the importance of striving for better. Her approach is not condescending since, firstly, she is also African American and it seems as if she may have come from a similar background. She wishes to be an inspiration to her students.

Conversely, though, it is obvious that Sylvia resents Miss Moore and sees her as an imposition. Throughout the story she mocks Miss Moore and persistently denigrates her attempts at teaching them. Sylvia probably sees her teacher as someone who believes that she is better than they and, therefore, dislikes her. Miss Moore has invaded her 'comfort zone.' Sylvia is happy doing the things she has become accustomed to, such as generally just messing around and doing as she wishes. Miss Moore's presence, especially her visits and constant requests to take them on trips, impedes her freedom.

Sylvia is street-smart and has learnt to survive in her environment. She sees Miss Moore as an outsider who is trying to change the status quo which, for Sylvia, is not a good thing, as explained above. She will, therefore, deliberately oppose whatever Miss Moore attempts to do, even if the teacher's actions should be to her and her peers' advantage. It is this perception and attitude that Sylvia adopts throughout the story.

There is also irony in the fact that Miss Moore is clearly focused mostly on Sylvia, a fact not lost on the girl. Miss Moore, for example, asks her to calculate the taxi driver's five percent tip. Sylvia resents the teacher's interest and comments derisively about it. She believes, probably, that Miss Moore wants to put her on the spot and embarrass her. Miss Moore, however, has evidently recognized qualities in Sylvia that she, herself, acknowledges. One of these is, for example, her desire to be the best at whatever she does, epitomized by her declaration at the end, 'But ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.'

It is clear, though, that Sylvia has learnt something and has been affected by Miss Moore's lesson although she, through sheer recalcitrance, refuses to openly and directly admit as much. She does, however, intimate the fact when she states that '... I’m going to the West End and then over to the Drive to think this day through.'

teachertaylor's profile pic

teachertaylor | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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In Toni Cade Bambara's short story "The Lesson," the nature of the conflict between the narrator Sylvia and Miss Moore lies in their understanding of the role that socioeconomic class plays in their lives.  Many children in the neighborhood and their families do not accept Miss Moore as "one of them."  Miss Moore is obviously educated and the neighbors view her as a threat.  Sylvia feels this way also, and as a result she becomes defensive whenever Miss Moore is around.  Miss Moore on the other hand wants to teach the children about their situation so that they can strive for something better.  During the trip to F. A. O. Schwartz, Miss Moore attempts to teach the children about the realities of socioeconomic class and how it affects their lives.  Sylvia is angry when her friend Sugar answers Miss Moore's questions and appears to have learned the lesson for the day.  Sylvia, however, cannot quite comprehend the lesson and wants to think about it more later.  So, the conflict between Sylvia and Miss Moore lies in the ignorance that surrounds the reality of the divisive nature of socioeconomic class.

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