How did Sylvia change after the lesson by Miss Moore?

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Sylvia has had a socioeconomic awakening after going to Manhattan. She realizes that America is a land occupied by people who inhabit places and live on an economic level about which she has never even dreamed.

It is interesting that Toni Bambara published her story "The Lesson " in...

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Sylvia has had a socioeconomic awakening after going to Manhattan. She realizes that America is a land occupied by people who inhabit places and live on an economic level about which she has never even dreamed.

It is interesting that Toni Bambara published her story "The Lesson" in 1972. It was after the Civil Rights Act of 1964—and especially during the 1970s—that racial quotas were restored.  There was a growing awareness in America of the socioeconomic disparities and the need to provide opportunities for minorities. At the time of the setting of this story, there were probably many in Harlem who still had little chance of leaving their neighborhoods. Perhaps, then, the educated Miss Moore, who is not from Harlem, has come there in the hope of making the children aware that other parts of New York are much different from their neighborhood.  She may wish to plant seeds of discontent and the desire for a better life in the children.

Miss Moore takes the children to Manhattan (a wealthy section) so that they can gain an insight into how other citizens of the United States live. On the way, she talks to them about economic disparity. Sylvia remarks,

She’s boring us silly about what things cost and what our parents make and how much goes for rent and how money ain’t divided up right in this country.

After they arrive, the children enter a store where the price tags on various items are astronomical in comparison to the things that they purchase in their neighborhood. On a beautiful sailboat, the tag reads,

Handcrafted sailboat of fiberglass at one thousand one hundred ninety-five dollars.

“Unbelievable,” I hear myself say and am really stunned. I read it again for myself just in case the group recitation put me in a trance. Same thing. For some reason this pisses me off. We look at Miss Moore and she looking at us, waiting for I dunnno what.

“Watcha bring us here for, Miss Moore?” Sylvia asks her, angrily. Miss Moore observes that Sylvia sounds angry and asks her why she is upset, but Sylvia refuses to respond. 

It is not long before Sylvia arrives home, following her and her classmates' uncomfortable excursion to the exclusive shops. On the trip back to Harlem, Miss Moore has asked them to consider the fact that people purchase toys that cost as much as it does to provide for a family of six or seven in Harlem. Sylvia's friend Sugar responds,

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?

“Anybody else learn anything today?” Miss Moore asks.

Sylvia steps on Sugar's foot to stop her from talking. She refuses to give Miss Moore any answer. However, after she arrives home, Sylvia declines to go with Sugar "to Hascombs" for sodas. Instead, she goes to a favorite spot:

To think this day through. She [Sugar] can run if she want to and even run faster. But ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.

Like Sugar, Sylvia has become aware of socioeconomic inequalities, but she also wants to understand what has caused such conditions and how to overcome them. She never again wants to feel inferior to anyone.  

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In the beginning of Toni Cade Bambara’s short story “The Lesson,” Sylvia is an irreverent, pre-adolescent who is the product of her environment. Her use of colloquialisms and uncouth actions define her personality traits. In her opinion, at the time Miss Moore moved to the neighborhood, she and Sugar were the only ones who were “perfect.” In her eyes, everyone else is flawed, which makes them laughable. She lives in a section of Harlem where many of the people are related. There is little aspiration for a different life, and Sylvia sees no point in changing things.

The parents are happy to release their children to Miss Moore for summer lessons. Miss Moore is educated and worldly in comparison to the others in the neighborhood. Sylvia does not want to be bothered with Miss Moore’s summer lessons and unwillingly participates in the short field trip to Manhattan. Although it is a quick taxi ride to Manhattan, it is a world away from Sylvia’s neighborhood. Miss Moore is wise enough to let the children learn life’s lessons independently when she takes them to the upscale toy store F.A.O. Schwartz.

After Sylvia’s visit to Manhattan and F.A.O. Schwartz, she is introspective. Her cousin is happy to be back in their neighborhood. She challenges Sylvia to race to the store for treats, but Sylvia says Sugar can run ahead because she needs to be alone to ponder the events of the day. Realizing that there is more to life, she says that she will not be beaten down by anything.

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