Characterize the narrator in the story "The Lesson"?  

Sylvia is at once both confident and vulnerable. First, she is confident in her opinion that Miss Moore is not a good teacher and that what she has to say isn’t important. At the same time, she feels vulnerable because she doesn’t have the formal education that Miss Moore does. This is demonstrated when Sylvia acknowledges that Miss Moore knows more than her but then dismisses her as irrelevant. This sense of vulnerability comes to a head when Sylvia hesitates before entering F.A.O. Schwartz because she feels “out of place” there; yet earlier in the story, she didn’t feel out of place talking about how much money things cost in front of Sugar, who did not go to college either.

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Sylvia is also simultaneously confident and vulnerable. Her attitude toward Miss Moore reflects her discomfort with those whom she believes are “superior” to her in a superficial sense. This notes her vulnerability because she is cautious of what to say so that she doesn’t look bad in front of the educated Miss Moore. At the same time, Sylvia derides Miss Moore and dismissed her insights as irrelevant. This shows that she feels confident that she doesn’t need what Miss Moore is offering.

This dissonance is further demonstrated at F.A.O. Schwartz when Sylvia is hesitant to enter the store. She is vulnerable because she feels like she must look out of place in such a fancy store. Moments earlier, she was mocking the price of the sailboat in the window aloud, unafraid to voice her opinion.

This tension in her character is finally resolved at the end of the story. When Sugar starts talking about all the junk food they can buy with the four dollars they kept, Sylvia seems uninterested. The confident Sylvia would have brushed off the day’s lesson about economic inequality and gotten her candy. The vulnerable side of Sylvia compels her to consider how she fits into a world that she realizes is unequal.

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In Toni Cade Bambara’s short story “The Lesson” the narrator and protagonist is a young African-American girl named Sylvia. In order to characterize her we look at her thoughts, speech, and actions. Sylvia’s brashness is apparent as she tells the story from her first person point of view using the colloquial language of her environment. She is surly, feisty, and even a bit defiant. As the story begins, she is indifferent and resistant to Miss Moore’s teachings, which is exposed in her thoughts.

And school suppose to let up in summer I heard, but she don't never let up. And the starch in my pinafore scratching the shit outta me and I'm really hating this nappy-head bitch and her goddamn college degree.

When Sylvia deals with the others, she is tough and physical often stepping on toes and pushing. When her best friend, Sugar, is responding to a question from Miss Moore, Sylvia is standing on her foot in an attempt to keep her friend quiet.

Then Sugar surprises me by sayin, "You know, Miss Moore, I don't think all of us here put together eat in a year what that sailboat costs." And Miss Moore lights up like somebody goosed her. "And?" she say, urging Sugar on. Only I'm standin on her foot so she don't continue.

The tough, sassy Sylvia experiences an uneasy metamorphosis after the group visits F. A. O. Schwartz in Manhattan, and her friend Sugar talks about democracy and the unequal division of wealth. In the end, she becomes introspective, deciding to go off by herself to think.

I'm going to the West End and then over to the Drive to think this day through. She can run if she want to and even run faster. But ain't nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.

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