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In Toni Bamabara's short story "The Lesson," and Chinua Achebe's "Civil Peace," I believe that both protagonists can rise above their circumstances.
The biggest difference is the age of the two protagonists: Jon is a husband and father, and Sylvia is still just a kid.
Sylvia indicates in "The Lesson," that she has taken Miss Moore's message to heart, and that the "lesson" has not be lost on Sylvia. However, Sylvia is still very much a kid and won't admit it, and could not act on it now if she wanted to. But as she and Sugar go on their way after the day's outing, Sugar runs ahead, but Sylvia takes her time to think. The idea that "democracy" does not necessarily apply to everyone has caused Sugar and Sylvia to take notice, but I think it will be some time before Sylvia can do anything about it, though she ends her tale with:
But ain't nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.
She can not do anything at the moment to improve her circumstances, but her comment indicates to me that she will do something about it when she is old enough: she already as the correct mind set.
In "Civil Peace," Jon is much more able to rise above the circumstances that have fallen upon he and his family in face of the Nigerian Civil War. Jon uses his bike to make money. The family returns to their home to find it still standing. The family works together to make more money to repair the house. Then Jon opens a bar for the soldiers in his house because he cannot go back to his job as a miner. He is thankful for what he has because other fellow miners have not been so fortunate.
When the thieves come to rob Jon and his family, Jon does not have the money they want, but he has received "egg-rashers" which he had not had before. He hands this over to the men and they leave. When his neighbors express sorrow for him the next day, he makes light of it because what he lost was something he had never had to depend on. All in all, Jon still feels very lucky.
Both Sylvia and Jon have proactive attitudes. Sylvia is too young to be gracious about what she has, but is determined to succeed. Jon is older, and he can do things to improve his family's situation and does so without complaint.
Both protagonists work to rise above their circumstances: Jon can do it now, but Sylvia will have to wait for a while.
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