The stories in Toni Cade Bambara's first collection, Gorilla, My Love, celebrate African-American culture and community, sometimes in juxtaposition against white society. Bambara challenges her characters to rethink ideas of accepted social values and norms at the same time that she challenges her readers to do the same. Many of her stories also feature a young, intelligent female narrator living in a world that she questions and examines. The narrator's discoveries, again, mirror the discovery of the reader.
"The Lesson" examines the realization of economic inequity in 1960s America through the eyes of a young girl. In Sylvia, Bambara creates a proud, sensitive, tough girl who is far too smart to ignore the realities around her, even though she knows it might be easier to do so. At the same time, Bambara creates a host of characters, all of whom help Sylvia explore and demonstrate the issues that face poor people and minorities in the United States.
Throughout her career, Bambara used her fiction writing as a forum for teaching people how to better their lives and how to demand more for themselves. Critics at the time of Gorilla, My Love's publication saw in her fiction a true voice. At the same time that Bambara aptly drew the African-American community, she also taught about what it could become. With stories such as "The Lesson," she indeed, imparts a lesson without sacrificing her art form to didactic thought or morals.