The Lesson
Tony Cade Bambara’s story “The Lesson” is a story about a lesson from a real life that Miss.Moore tries to teach her students. Points she points out are about a real life, poverty and luxury, and about her personal view that money is not shared as it is supposed to in a democratic society. She tries to show the contrast between being really poor and being really rich.
Since these are 1960’s, Sylvia and her cousins haven’t had a chance to watch the TV and to see what the rest of the world looks alike. They only know about their neighborhood, which is dirty and in poverty. This is especially expressed when Sylvia says: (on Miss.Moore’s remarks that “all poor and live in slums”) “I don’t feature”. And she doesn’t feature because her whole world lives in slums. She can’t see nothing else. She lives very poor and her mother is probably a prostitute. She is aware of, because she says ”our mothers were in la-de-da apartment up the block having a good ole time”. But where ever she looks, she sees the same thing because her whole neighborhood is poor, dirty and full of prostitution.
So, a trip to Fifth Avenue is a tremendous shock for her. When she sees a woman having a fur coat her comment is “white folks crazy”. And she really doesn’t understand that the fact that Fifth Avenue is a place where only five percents of our population can afford to live or to shop. It even hurts her when she sees the price for a toy boat. She can’t believe the price for that toy is one thousand one hundred ninety-five dollars. In her world, a whole family can live six months with that amount of money. Even thirty-five dollars is huge amount of money for her.
At the same time, Miss.Moore achieves her goal for this lesson. She deeply believes that money is not divided right in this country. So she tries to teach her students a lesson, there is a lot more to accomplish and achieve in their lives. And they should try to take a piece of that “cake”. She also very well knows how hard is for african-americans to achieve more. She, herself, is one of the very few african-americans who went to college and got a college degree. She moved to poor Sylvia’s neighborhood but she wants to make something out of those children. So, she teaches them voluntary lessons from real life. Even though she lives in that neighborhood, she tries to raise herself above that level. We can see that from the way Sylvia describes her: “lady with nappy hair, and proper speech and who always looked like she was going to church”.
So, the reason she takes the children to the Fifth Avenue instead of taking them to a nice middle-class suburb is to point out that contrast, the contrast between not having enough money to survive and having money to throw it away. She could show the children they could achieve more in their lives by just taking them to a middle-class suburb. But she would not have that effect. Having the children to see all those things on Fifth Avenue made them to really think about their lives. Especially Sylvia starts to think. Actually, when they all gather at the mailbox from which they started their journey, she is angry. But not just angry, she is embarrassed. She felt embarrassed when she entered that store. Just like she was embarrassed when she and Sugar tried to dance in the church, but when people started staring at them she felt embarrassed and locked. In the store, there was no people to stare at her, but all those prices were staring at her. She felt the difference between her world and this world where people are that rich. She is so angry so she doesn’t even want to race together with Sugar. She just wants to go somewhere, where she will be alone to think this day out.