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

Expert Answers
sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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, 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.”

brendawm eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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