In the story "The Lesson," what is Sylvia's reaction to the lesson that Miss Moore taught the children?

Expert Answers
andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is evident from the outset that Sylvia dislikes Miss Moore. She makes cynical comments about her actions, her attire, the way she looks, and what she is trying to achieve. She apparently hates Miss Moore's meddling and sees her presence as an invasion into her comfort zone. Sylvia is quite outspoken and states that she expresses what exactly she thinks of her teacher's lessons. When Miss Moore asks them about money, for example, she deems Miss Moore's question an insult and mentions that "So right away I’m tired of this and say so." Sylvia evidently views Miss Moore as an outsider with a haughty attitude, and she wants to put the teacher in her place.

Miss Moore's outing is partly to teach her students about the value of money and how its worth is determined by one's circumstances. She has been consistently teaching her students that their place in society is what defines them but that it does not have to be that way. She wants to inspire her students to look beyond their drab and dissatisfying circumstances and aim to do better for themselves, as she has most evidently done. The teacher's advice, however, does not resonate with Sylvia, and she dislikes what she believes are erroneous and supercilious assumptions by the teacher.

When Miss Moore takes her class to an upmarket toy store, F.A.O. Schwarz, Sylvia angrily asks her why she has brought them there. Miss Moore asks her what she is angry about, but Sylvia does not respond. Miss Moore apparently wishes her students to experience the disparities in wealth that she has so often mentioned in class. She wants them to see, firsthand, how the privileged section of society lives. Furthermore, she wants them to work towards claiming what she calls "their share of the pie." The children are surprised by the grossly expensive price tags on the goods in the store. The cost of a toy sailboat that retails for more than a thousand dollars especially impresses them.

Sylvia is overwhelmed by the exorbitant price of the fiberglass sailboat and rereads the price tag just to make sure. She is extremely upset about this but does not say why. This exposure has touched a nerve. Miss Moore has evidently noticed Sylvia's reaction and looks at her expecting some response, but Sylvia remains silent.

When Miss Moore asks the students what they have learned from their visit, it is Sugar who provides the greatest insight by saying,

“You know, Miss Moore, I don’t think all of us here put together eat in a year what that sailboat costs.”

Sylvia stops her from saying anything else by stepping on Sugar's foot. Miss Moore is pleased by Sugar's response and asks her students to imagine what kind of society it is "where some people can spend on a toy what it would cost to feed a family of six or seven." Sugar, once again, shows the most insight and comments about the lack of democracy in such a society. She suggests that everyone should have an equal opportunity to obtain wealth and better themselves. Miss Moore is highly satisfied but looks at Sylvia sorrowfully, as if she expected her to say something valuable as well.

It is apparent that Miss Moore has been waiting for Sylvia to react to what she has experienced. The fact that she asks her to calculate the taxi driver's tip and entrusts the fare to her, as well as her constant awareness of Sylvia's responses, indicate that she wishes that the one she believes to be her most intelligent student (Sylvia) will in some way react. Sylvia, however, stubbornly refuses to please her teacher and adopts an unresponsive demeanor. Sylvia, it seems, will not allow Miss Moore to manipulate her.

The end of the story does indicate that Sylvia has learned something, though, because she is going "over to the Drive to think this day through." Furthermore, she is determined to prove that no one will beat her at anything. Her sentiment apparently refers to the fact that she believes both Sugar and Miss Moore showed up her shortcomings, and she will not allow that to ever happen again.

teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Lesson," Sylvia at first has an oppositional reaction to the lesson that Miss Moore tries to teach the children.  Miss Moore does not have a great reputation in the community because many people are jealous of her education and claim that she thinks she is "better" than the other people in the community.  However, Miss Moore is sympathetic to the plight of her neighbors, and this is why she takes the children to the toy store to teach them about socioeconomic status and pride.  Once they are at the store, Sylvia begins to see that Miss Moore cares for the children, and although she tries to fight against it, Sylvia comes around to Miss Moore's teachings.  At the end of the story, Sylvia goes away saying that nothing will keep her down, and the reader assumes that this young girl will try to rise above her situation.

Read the study guide:
The Lesson

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question