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

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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...

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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.

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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.

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In "The Lesson," how does Sylvia change as a result of Miss Moore's lesson?

[It is important to note that this story was published in 1972. Although the Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964, the Department of Labor did not begin enforcing the quota system of hiring minorities until the seventies. Opportunities were extremely limited for African Americans at the time of the writing of this story.]

As a result of the lesson presented to her by Miss Moore, Sylvia is no longer complacent with her life. 

Miss Moore takes the children of the neighborhood on a trip to demonstrate how an unjust economic and social system creates unfair access to money and resources for other races, while black Americans have few opportunities. However, Sylvia seems disinterested. 

So we heading down the street and 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. 

When they arrive in Manhattan, the children are conducted into a socioeconomic area where an elite class can purchase non-necessities at what seems to the children to be unreal prices. The prices on the merchandise are sometimes higher than their household's yearly income. Sylvia and the others are initially incredulous and cannot comprehend the inequities in a country that has two such different places in New York. The children do not seem to fully comprehend that there are people who can buy such things. Nevertheless, the store makes an impression upon the children. For some, however, this feeling is so surreal that they dismiss it.

Later, when Miss Moore asks the children what they have come away with from this trip, some respond in a manner that greatly disappoints their chaperone. "White folk's crazy," one says; another says that he would like to return there when he gets his birthday money. However, Sylvia's friend Sugar impresses Miss Moore after the woman suggests to the children,

“Imagine for a minute what kind of society it is in which some people can spend on a toy what it would cost to feed a family of six or seven. What do you think?”

“I think,” says Sugar. . . “that 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?”

Miss Moore smiles when she hears Sugar's response; then, she looks at Sylvia, but Sylvia refuses to say anything; Miss Moore is disappointed. However, when they arrive in Harlem, having forgotten about their trip, Sugar suggests that they spend the money they have left and offers to race Sylvia to the drugstore, shouting at Sylvia to try to catch her. Sylvia lets her go.  She wants to ponder what occurred today, so she says that Sylvia can run and win if she wants to. 

"But ain't nobody gonna beat me at nothin'," Sylvia says to herself. She realizes that she has a larger race to run because she wants to figure out how to better her life and have the opportunities that others have.

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In "The Lesson," how does Sylvia change as a result of Miss Moore's lesson?

Self-realization is one way Sylvia changes in "The Lesson."

At the start of the story, Sylvia sees herself as part of something larger. This can be seen in her tone in the opening paragraph: she speaks in collective terms.  For example, Sylvia speaks about how she and Sugar view the world in the same way: " and Sugar were the only ones just right." It can also be seen in how they view Miss Moore: "And we kinda hated her too, hated the way we did the winos..." In both settings, Sylvia views the world in a collectivized notion of the good. She sees reality in a "We" type of way.

By the end of the story, Sylvia changes to a more self- interested point of view. The last words of the story reflect individualist language that Sylvia did not initially demonstrate:  "But ain't nobody gonna beat me at nuthin."  When Sylvia breaks away from Sugar to "think about the day," it is clear that she has become more individualistic. She is not as collective in her language and demeanor.  

The change in language and approach is reflective of Sylvia's self-realization. She has become more aware of the world and her place in it. In some respects, Sylvia has emerged from a cave and into a new world.  It is a world where questions abound. For example, she is not clear as to why she is angry at what she experienced. She has to "think" about what happened, away from other people. The epiphany that  emerges  at the end of the story is vague, but also reflective of a core value. These are examples of the self-realization that Sylvia has experienced.  They go to show how she has changed as a result of Miss Moore's lesson.

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