Symbols are often use in stories to portray more of a literal meaning. Conventional, literary, and allegory are examples of the different types of symbolism. Symbols can be displayed in many different ways. People, objects, and events are just a few of the ways. Throughout the short story, "The Lesson," Toni Cade Bambara uses symbolism in many areas.
The title, "The Lesson," is one symbol that Bambara uses. Miss. Moore, the teacher with a college degree, takes the kids on a trip to F.A.O. Schwarz. Throughout their trip, Miss. Moore is constantly talking to them about money. Bambara writes, "And Miss Moore asking us do we know what money is, like we bunch of retards" (Bambara 136).
Throughout the story, Miss Moore is trying to teach the kids a lesson. The kids become shocked when they see the cost of many of the toys. They do not understand how anyone can spend that much money on a toy.
Miss Moore attempts to teach the children about the difference of how some people spend money. Sylvia feels insulted and thinks Miss Moore is calling them "retards" when she asks the group do they know what money is. The first lesson is to figure out how much of a tip they are suppose to leave the cab driver. Sylvia wants to keep the money and jump out of the cab and spend the money on some barbecue . Theft seems to be a common feature within the group. Later, when they are at the store, Sugar asks "can we steal" (308).
Both of these things lead back to the title of the story where Miss Moore is trying to teach the kids a lesson that will one day be important in their life.
The language of the story lets the reader know what kind of neighborhood in which "The Lesson" is taking place. Bambara...
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...heet" and "envelopes [that] smell like roses," Rosie, like Sylvia, joins in mocking traitors: "Who wants to know about your smelly-ass stationery?" (309). Mercedes's identification with Miss Moore's ideals is punished. Condemning those who side with Miss Moore is a means of discrediting her lesson.
Bambara uses symbolism in her short story, "The Lesson," to help the reader get a feel of what is going on. This is seen through the title, language, and names of the characters and the way each symbol is used helps the reader to interpret the story.
Paul H. Connolly, editor, On Essays: A Reader for Writers
(Author of foreword) The Sanctified Church: Collected Essays by Zora Neale Hurston
Mari Evans, editor, Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation
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