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.