Sylvia, the narrator, is the central character, and it is through her consciousness that readers intuit the significance of the title, "The Lesson." Sylvia is smart, aggressive and the leader of the band of friends and cousins that prefers to spend their summer days "terrorizing the West Indian kids," by snatching "their hair ribbons and their money too." Not quite an adolescent, Sylvia is fascinated with experimenting with the lipstick her friend Sugar has stolen from her mother. Although she seems fearless on her own territory, she "feel funny, shame" when she realizes she is out of her element on Fifth Avenue. Sylvia has always been aware that she is poor, but she has been blissfully ignorant of how startling her disadvantages are until her world is contrasted with that of Manhattan's rich. She has always resented Miss Moore, "the nappy-head bitch and her goddamn college degree," but after the trip to Fifth Avenue, her anger spreads from Miss Moore to her friends, who have actually admitted to the older woman that they have "gotten" the lesson.
Her closest companion, Sugar, breaks ranks with Sylvia by responding to Miss Moore's probing questions about social justice:
"Imagine for a minute what kind of society it is in which some people can spend on a toy what it would cost to feed a family of six or seven. What do you think?"
"I think," say Sugar pushing me off her feet like she never done before, cause I whip her ass in a minute, "that this is not much of a democracy if you ask me. Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough, don't it?" Miss Moore is besides herself and I am disgusted with Sugar's treachery.
Sylvia's parting of the ways with Sugar signals an ambiguous ending. When Sylvia uncharacteristically lets Sugar get...
(The entire section is 751 words.)