The Power of Personality in Toni Cade Bambara's The Lesson

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The Power of Personality in Toni Cade Bambara’s The Lesson

Developing character is something that comes with time. I believe that there are three major things that effect how people develop their character—where they are from, which includes their financial status; how they are raised; and the character of the people that have had the most influence on their lives. Sylvia, in Toni Cade Bambara’s "The Lesson," is very much influenced by all of these factors. Sylvia’s living in the slums and being poor makes her defensive and judgmental. Her parents not being around much leaves her without the attention and discipline that children need to develop to their fullest. Lastly, her friends and Miss Moore also have a great influence on how Sylvia thinks and acts, and lead Sylvia to be observant but also angry and stubborn. All of these characteristics not only determine Sylvia’s personality, but also are the basis for why I think Sylvia will not apply Miss Moore’s lesson.

Sylvia’s being poor influences the way in which she sees other people and feels about them. Sylvia lives in the slums of New York; it is the only life she knows and can realistically relate to. She does not see herself as poor or underprivileged. Rather, she is content with her life, and therefore resistant to change. Sylvia always considered herself and her cousin as "the only ones just right" in the neighborhood, and when an educated woman, Miss Moore, moves into the neighborhood, Sylvia feels threatened. Ms. Moore is threatening to her because she wants Sylvia to look at her low social status as being a bad thing, and Sylvia "doesn’t feature that." This resistance to change leads Sylvia to be very defensive and in turn judgmental. Sylvia is quick to find fl...

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...hrough." Sylvia is very used to being the leader of the group, the toughest girl, and being able to constantly defend herself, compared to inferior, embarrassed, and unprotected by her often strong words. Although Sylvia realizes Miss Moore’s lesson, I believe that her quick judgment, stubbornness, and anger shown throughout the story will hold her back from using Miss Moore’s lesson to her advantage. Then again, her anger especially, may provoke her to want to overcome her setbacks. I think the ending is vague and left wide open for one to speculate exactly what choice Sylvia will make. According to my observations, Sylvia’s negative attitude outweighs her chance for success.

Works Cited:

Bambara, Toni Cade. "The Lesson." Eds. Hans P. Guth and Gabriele L. Rico. Discovering Literature: Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997.

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