In Toni Cade Bambara’s short story “The Lesson,” Sylvia tries to understand the various statements made by Miss Moore. Where we are is who we are, Miss Moore always pointin out. But it...

In Toni Cade Bambara’s short story “The Lesson,” Sylvia tries to understand the various statements made by Miss Moore.

Where we are is who we are, Miss Moore always pointin out. But it don’t necessarily have to be that way.

What are the specific circumstances that make Sylvia reflect on this statement?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Toni Cade Bambara's short story "The Lesson," Sylvia notes that Miss Moore is always saying to the kids she is mentoring:

Where we are is who we are...

Miss Moore continues by saying that it doesn't have to be that way. Miss Moore, a black woman of obvious intelligence, makes it a practice to spend time with a group of young black children to teach them things (lessons) about the world in which they live so they have the knowledge that the life they are living at that moment is not necessarily the way they must live for the rest of their lives.

The context of this statement is found in this newest "lesson" that involves taking the children to F.A.O. Schwarz in New York City, famous for its wide selection of unusual toys. Unlike the toy stores many readers may know, this store is geared to the very wealthy. For instance, they see a sailboat for over a thousand dollars. The children note that their toy boats cost 50 cents or a dollar.

After the excursion is over, Miss Moore gathers the children together again to see if they have learned anything important.

Then Sugar surprises me by sayin, "You know, Miss Moore, I don't think all of us here put together eat in a year what that sailboat costs." And Miss Moore lights up like somebody goosed her.

Miss Moore asks Sugar to continue, but Sylvia—who dislikes doing what adults expect her to do—stands on Sugar's foot in order to shut her up.

"I think," say Sugar pushing me off her feet like she never done before cause I whip her ass in a minute, "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 is besides herself and I am disgusted with Sugar's treachery. 

This is what Miss Moore has been hoping for—that the children understand that they way they live compared to others (like customers at the toy store) is not the way life has to remain for them. Miss Moore is looking straight at Sylvia when she asks if anyone else learned anything.

Sylvia refuses to be drawn in. She walks away and Sugar follows. To the reader it might seem as if Sugar has no intention of paying any attention to this lesson. However, we may remember that earlier Sylvia commented that something weird was going on. They leave Miss Moore and run to get something to eat, but the reader can infer that the lesson did reach Sylvia as she muses to herself...

...ain't nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.

Sources:

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