What is the theme of the short story "The Lesson"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the short story "The Lesson," we watch as Silvia resists learning. She is a bit rebellious and very independent, and resents Ms. Moore for trying to teach the kids and change the way things are.

Ms. Moore brings the kids to a toy store in a very wealthy area and asks them to pay attention to the cost of the toys and to think about how much their parents would need to work in order to buy those toys.

She wants to teach them about injustice and about how to fight for better opportunities. You could argue that Ms. Moore is trying to empower the kids, but in order to do so, she needs to first show them why they need to be empowered and help them see the injustice that surrounds them.

The story focuses mostly on Silvia, who doesn't want to listen and doesn't want to be told that she is poor. While some of the other kids seem to consider the lesson, Silvia wants to get away; however, we see that perhaps she will continue to think about the day, think about what it means for her, and consider what she might change because of it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are three main themes readily discernible in “The Lesson”:  Poverty and Wealth,Race, and Resistance

Poverty and Wealth—The power of poverty is strong and its pull is powerful and difficult to overcome, whereas wealth, when used to the degree of flaunting what one has in the faces of those less fortunate causes more harm still.

Race—while not a hit you in the face theme, the tinge of race is there as everyone in Sylvia’s world is African American.

Resistance—Resisting racism is a main theme used by Bambara, who, through her writing,  make an effort to empower the African-American community.

The link below carries much more detailed information.  Hope this helps.  Brenda 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In my view the theme goes beyond the fact that children already understand the worth of money—that the toys are expensive and beyond their reach.  The story’s theme is the “lesson” that Miss Moore teaches them and Silvia’s willingness to absorb that and do something about it. Sugar best articulates this lesson at the end of the story, saying “I think that this is not much of a democracy ….Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough, don’t it?”  Indeed Miss Moore brought them to the toy store to learn just that--to understand that the economic limitations of their own lives are political and racist, that their lives could be other than what they are.  Silvia, however, is too proud to acknowledge that, and decides to use the $4.00 she has to buy junk food. Yet, she says at the end, as she races off with her friend, “Ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.”  While ostensibly she means Sugar, whom she is racing, she also means the larger world,...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

namely the white world she has seen at the toy store.  That is the lesson, the theme:  a person needs to get outside her limited world to see what it is in relation to everything else, and then decide what her values and goals should be. Whether or not Silvia actually learns this and does something about it we’re not quite sure.  After all, she says she “needs to think this day through.”

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team