What is/define the nature of the conflict between Sylvia and Miss Moore in the story?

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shoshona's profile pic

shoshona | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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In "the Lesson," by Toni Cade Bambara, Miss Moore is an educated woman who is very much aware of the unfair distribution of wealth. Note that she is the only character without a first name. She is very formal.  Her language and education separate her from the community but at the same time earn her some respect. Sylvia, the narrator, reveals through her description of Miss Moore that she does not respect her: "I"m really hating this nappy-head bitch and her goddamn college degree." Sylvia resents Miss Moore not only for her education but because she is a reminder of socio-economic difference, something that Sylvia would rather ignore.  When Miss Moore takes the children to FAO Schwarz, a toy store, Sylvia and her friends cannot imagine or understand who would shop there, and this further infuriates Sylvia as Miss Moore presses the children to learn the "Lesson." Sugar recognizes what Miss Moore wants the children to see. When Sylvia steps on Sugar's foot to stop her from talking, we realize that Sylvia is well aware of the lesson but unwilling to satisfy Miss Moore with this fact. She sees Miss Moore as winning, and in the last sentence says that "aint nobody gonna beat me at nuthin." She will not allow Miss Moore to be better than her or to point out Sylvia's own socio-economic status.

teachersage's profile pic

teachersage | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Set in 1972, "The Lesson" revolves around a trip to F.A.O. Schwarz, a high-end toy store in the center of downtown Manhattan. The trip there is organized by a college-educated woman, Miss Moore, who has her hair styled naturally in an Afro. Sylvia, the narrator, a smart, aggressive girl from a poor neighborhood, is one of the children Miss Moore takes on the toy store trip, which is meant to sensitize the children to wealth inequality. Sylvia resents Miss Moore because she is different in ways Sylvia has difficulty grappling with (such as the Afro, her education, and her broader experience of society), and because she challenges the complacency of Sylvia's set ideas. Sylvia remembers those times as:

Back in the days when everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish and me and Sugar were the only ones just right.

Sylvia doesn't necessarily want to learn the disturbing lessons that Miss Moore wants to teach her about how unfairly the deck is stacked against her and her classmates, and so she resists Miss Moore. Sylvia has spent her life isolated in her neighborhood and doesn't know what the rest of the world is like. Having one's worldview challenged is always difficult, but Sylvia, despite her resistance, does learn from her outing with Miss Moore.