In Bambara’s “The Lesson,” Sylvia and her friends seem to understand the objects from F. A. O. Schwarz in terms of their “use value,” not in terms of “commodification.” With this in mind, discuss how the story’s representation of “conspicuous consumption” criticizes class oppression. How does Miss Moore figure in this criticism? Use two secondary sources that focus on the story itself.
The story criticizes class oppression by portraying the absurdity and injustice of conspicuous consumption. Miss Moore figures into this criticism by taking Sylvia and the other children to F. A. O. Schwarz and helping them to see that toys like the sailboat are expensive not because of their use value, but because they are commodities. Through this field trip, she hopes to make the students conscious of their own oppression by introducing them to the wealth gap.
A good example of the process you are describing is when the children spot the sailboat that costs nearly twelve hundred dollars. The narrator, Sylvia, is "stunned" and reacts to this object with anger. She is shocked that anyone would spend so much money for such a toy when it is possible to "buy a sailboat at Pop's" with all the requisite supplies for fifty cents. She is considering the toy sailboat's use value as a toy only; the idea that a person would spend so much money on a toy sailboat is baffling to her when a person could spend so much less on a different toy sailboat and, either way,...
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