Why does Sylvia feel anger and shame at the F. A. O. Schwartz toy store in "The Lesson"? Why is Sylvia, not Miss Moore, the narrator?

Quick answer:

In "The Lesson," Sylvia feels both anger and shame in the F. A. O. Schwartz toy store on Fifth Avenue because she knows she does not belong and cannot afford the toys there. She specifically feels anger because even a modest clown is out of her price range, costing more than her family's monthly rent. Bambara has Sylvia, not Miss Moore, narrate because Sylvia is seeing the store for the first time, and her reactions are rawer and more vivid.

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Sylvia feels anger while visiting the F. A. O. Schwartz store because she realizes she can't afford any of the toys on display. She seems to accept not being able to have some of the pricier toys, such as the $1,195 toy sailboat. Spending that much money on something so small that could only, in her words "maybe sail two kittens across the pond if you strap them to the posts tight" seems ridiculous to her. However, she does see a toy clown that does flips that seems like a more reasonable toy to aspire to. She feels a desire to have it. Yet even that more modest item costs $35, a huge amount of money at the time for people in her circumstances. She realizes the same money could buy a set of bunkbeds or pay for her whole family to visit her grandfather in the country or pay the rent and the "piano bill" for month. She wonders angrily:

Who are these people that spend that much for performing clowns and $1000 for toy sailboats? What kinda work they do and how they live and how come we ain’t in on it?

When it comes to something seemingly small, like a clown, that she feels she should be able to afford, the class difference between her and the people who shop in the store begins to sting. She wonders why the wealth gap is so wide.

Sylvia feels overtaken by shame as Miss Moore urges the children to enter the store. Her shame comes from knowing, after looking at the items in the window, that this is a far too pricey place for her. She feels shame because she knows she comes from a lower class in life. Sylvia, however, is unable to analyze these feelings. She simply notes:

I feel funny, shame. But what I got to be shamed about? Got as much right to go in as anybody. But somehow I can’t seem to get hold of the door, so I step away from Sugar to lead. But she hangs back too.

Her overt self talk that she has a "right" to be there is challenged by the less conscious thought she doesn't have the right.

Bambara has Sylvia narrate the story because this is the first time she has been to such a high-end store, so her reactions will be much more raw, immediate, and vivid that Miss Moore's. Her first-person narrative voice allows us to get right inside her head and experience what she is experiencing. Miss Moore has clearly already been to the store and takes the children with a specific agenda in mind. Her point-of-view reactions would be more muted than Sylvia's. Further, Sylvia has a lively, engaging voice that keeps the reader interested and amused and is enough "onto" Miss Moore to communicate to us what her teacher is trying to do. All of this makes her an ideal narrator.

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