The Lesson Summary

Overview

Narrated in the voice of Sylvia, a preadolescent black girl, "The Lesson" is her version of a summer day trip organized by Miss Moore, a socially conscious spinster who is determined to teach eight children a lesson about the nature of money and how it is distributed in American society. In order to expose the children to the notion of class differences, Miss Moore, the self-appointed teacher, takes them from the "slums" in New York City to the upscale retail area on Fifth Avenue where they visit F.A.O. Schwarz, a world-famous toy store. Although the lesson Miss Moore attempts to teach is quite serious, the story is infused with sassy humor provided by the various children's honest and irreverent voices.

(The entire section is 122 words.)

The Lesson Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Sylvia, who narrates the story, is a young girl living in a poor area of New York City. She and her friends are developing their strategies to cope with life as they know it. She has adopted the pose of a know-it-all who can figure out things for herself, and she tells herself that she resents and has no use for Miss Moore, the college-educated African American woman who frequently serves as a guide and unofficial teacher for the local children.

Miss Moore arranges a trip for Sylvia, Sugar, and six other children to go to the F. A. O. Schwarz toy store at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street. Miss Moore knows that this will be a new experience for the children, who have been isolated in their neighborhood, and that they will encounter items they have never seen, items that are far beyond their economic means. She wants the youngsters to learn that there is much more to the world than the slum area they know, and particularly for them to realize that wealth is unfairly and unequally distributed.

The emphasis on the relative value of money begins for Sylvia when Miss Moore gives her a five-dollar bill to pay the taxi fare to the store. Sylvia is told to include a 10 percent tip for the driver and return the change to Miss Moore. Sylvia gives the cab driver the fare of eighty-five cents but decides that she needs money more than he does and keeps not only the tip but the remainder of the money.

At the toy store, the children feel uneasy and out of place. Looking through the window, they are stunned by the products offered and by their high prices. Ronald sees what he recognizes as a...

(The entire section is 661 words.)

The Lesson Summary

In ‘‘The Lesson,’’ Miss Moore has moved into the narrator's—Sylvia's—neighborhood recently. Miss Moore is unlike the other African Americans in the neighborhood. She wears her hair in its natural curls, she speaks proper English, she goes by her last name, she has attended college, and she wants to teach the neighborhood children about the world around them.

One day Miss Moore takes the children on a field trip. She starts off by talking about how much things cost, what the children's parents earn, and the unequal division of wealth in the United States. She makes Sylvia angry when she says that they are poor and live in the slums.

Miss Moore hails two cabs, and she gives Sylvia five dollars to pay their driver. Sylvia suggests that they jump out of the cab and go get barbecue, but no one, including Sylvia's friend and cohort Sugar, agrees. When they get to their destination, Sylvia keeps the four dollars change.

Their destination is the famous Fifth Avenue toy store, F. A. O. Schwarz. Before the group enters, they look in the store windows. They see very expensive toys—a microscope that costs $300, a paperweight that costs $480, and a sailboat that costs $1,195. While they look at these items, they talk about what they see. Miss Moore explains what a paperweight is for. Most of the children don't see the need for it—only Mercedes has a desk at home. It is the sailboat that surprises them the most, however. Even Sylvia speaks: "Unbelievable," she says. The children discuss the sailboat in the window and the sailboats that they make from kits. Sylvia wonders what a real boat costs, but Miss Moore won't tell her; she says that Sylvia should check it out and...

(The entire section is 699 words.)