Consider paragrpahs 44-50: what ideas about equality and inequality are exposed in Bambara's "The Lesson?—and will the kids remember Miss Moore's message?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Toni Cade Bambara's short story, "The Lesson," it seems the section you are referring to includes the children's visit to F.A.O. Schwarz, which is allegedly a "toy" store. While there may be toys, I always feel that some of these toys are for very well-to-do adults' children, but also some are for the well-to-do adults as well.

Two toys are discussed: the sailboat which costs almost twelve hundred dollars, and a thirty-five dollar mechanical clown.

It is, of course, Miss Moore's intention to point out the inequality represented in this toy store that sells things that none of these children could afford. Sylvia puts everything into its proper perspective, which is part of "the lesson," though she doesn't see it right away. She imagines asking her mother for the clown toy:

"You wanna who that costs what?" she'd say, cocking her head to the side to get a better view of the hole in my head.

Sylvia reviews the value of thirty-five dollars in her neighborhood, in her world. Junior and Gretchen could buy their son a set of bunk beds; it would cover the cost of the whole family visiting the country to see Grand-daddy Nelson; and, it could pay the rent, among other things. Sylvia's mom would ask:

Who are these people that spend that much for performing clowns and $1000 for toy sailboats? What kinda work they do and how they live and how come we ain't in on it?

Miss Moore has brought the children to see how the "better half" lives. It's not enough to realize that there is a better half, but Miss Moore wants the chidren to want to be successful like those people—not to be hindered, living their lives in the inner-city—as their parents are doing: working hard, never getting ahead, and never having the same opportunities as those around them. And really, it's not about the money. It about quality of life—and leaving an unmotivated mindset behind to find it.

Where we are is who we are, Miss Moore always pointin out. But it don't necessarily have to be that way...

Sylvia's parents know about the inequality they and their kids face, but they can't change their children's future because they have no idea how—they don't have the finances or social support to make life different for their kids. Historically, it has been too soon since the Civil Rights Amendment of 1964 was passed (this story written in 1972) to have seen any real changes—things have not greatly improved for blacks in this country. Programs are not in place to train or motivate young people. However, they do have Miss Moore, and as much as the kids resent her, she is their single-handed advocate. She understands what needs to be done. It is for this reason that she takes the kids out on these excursions.

And while Sugar seems to "get it" for a moment (while Sylvia stands on her foot to shut her up), she is soon too distracted by the thought of ice cream soda and layer cake to stay focused; but as much as Sylvia tries to hide her growing realization from Miss Moore, we know something is changing inside her as Miss Moore speaks to them:

And somethin weird is goin on, I can feel it in my chest. "Anybody else learn anything today?" lookin dead at me. I walk away...

As they leave Miss Moore, still in possession of four dollars left from the cab ride, Sylvia has to ponder what she has learned, but we know she is not going to sit quietly while life pushes her around— not without pushing back:

...ain't nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.

Sylvia has learned the lesson!

 

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