Throughout “The Lesson,” Sylvia is presented as an inquisitive but skeptical girl who is not convinced that Miss Moore’s field trip is worthwhile. While she is interested in the overpriced, fancy toys and equipment that the children see at FAO Schwartz, she refuses to go along with some aspects the young woman’s plans. Because Miss Moore is educated and much more well-to-do than everyone else who lives in their neighborhood, Sylvia does not entirely trust Miss Moore’s motives. She seems to be not only an independent person who both prefers to form her own opinions, but also a child who tends to resist adult authority. An example of this resistance is her pocketing the change rather than tipping the cab driver.
The lesson that Miss Moore wants to teach them does have some of her desired results. Sylvia is resentful at the vast income inequality between the potential buyers of luxury items and her family and herself. Returning from their excursion, Miss Moore prompts the children with questions about their experience. Another girl, Sugar, promptly provides the answers that she anticipates Miss Moore wants to hear. Hearing her friend behave like the teacher’s pet infuriates Sylvia. Although she deeply feels the unfairness of the wealth gap, she would not admit this to Miss Moore: she does not want to give the young woman the satisfaction of being right.
In the last few lines, the idea that competition is one of Sylvia’s values is emphasized. Sugar suggests that the girls race each other, but Sylvia refuses. However, she does not seem to be concerned that Sugar would win the race. Instead, she needs privacy to reflect on the day’s experiences. Beyond competing with Sugar or even Miss Moore, Sylvia’s comment about getting “beat” includes all of society, including the rich, who cannot keep her down. Sylvia reveals how determined she is to succeed, even though she cannot yet articulate her specific goals.