The Lesson

The Lesson

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Throughout history knowledge, culture and information has been passed down within communities. Life lesson were often taught by older, wiser or formally educated people within the community. This idea still holds true today, especially in low-income communities as illustrated in the short story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara. I am led to believe that story took place in a low-income community in the early to mid-sixties as African-American families moved to find better opportunities, when extended families moved north as groups and then spreading out into their respective community (507). Miss Moore, who had obtained a college education, assumed this role within her community by saying “it was only right that she should take responsibility for the young one’s education” (507). Initially the lesson of the day was the value of money, but quickly evolved into several different lessons for the children in attendance that day.
Miss Moore begins her lesson by planting a seed in the minds of the children in the form of small talk such as; what things cost, how much their parents made, how much they spent on rent and how money was not divided up right in this country (508). This got the children thinking about the money that ordinary people within their community spent on everyday survival. Their field trip brings them to a fancy Fifth Avenue toy store “F.A.O Schwartz” (512), where they admire toys form the window. The children begin to notice the outlandish prices that the toys were being sold for, which further waters the seed embedded in their little minds earlier. Their eyes settled on a sailboat displayed in the window. Its outrageous price tag read, one thousand one hundred ninety-five dollars (510). Shocked and taken back they could not believe that anyone would pay that much money to entertain a child, one child immediately asked, “This boat for Kid’s, Miss Moore?” (510). This growing seed in their minds sparks the question of, why some people can afford such expensive toys and not others, as they enter the store. As they finish in the toy store and get home, Miss Moore prods the children to see if they had grasped the lesson as she intended. Sugar, one of the children spoke and said “You know, Miss Moore, I don’t think all of us here put together eat in a year what that sailboat costs” (512). Miss Moore was elated to find that the message of social inequality had been relayed to at least one of the children.

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An obviously smart girl, regardless of the resistance she shows Miss Moore, Silvia perhaps learned the lesson best that day. This is particular evident in Sylvia as she asks “Watcha you bring us here for, Miss Moore?” (511), as if to say we can’t afford any of the toys anyway. The rational she uses to compare the price of a clown in the toy store and applies it to her everyday reality was mature, Bunk beds for Junior and Gretchen’s boy, a family trip to the country to visit Granddaddy Nelson or pay for rent and piano bills (511). A very bright young lady, Sylvia asks herself all of the right questions such as, who are these people that spend that much for performing clowns and $1,000 for toy sailboats, What kinda work they do and how they live and how come we ain’t in on it? (511). Her comments throughout the story leads me to believe that she is a strong-willed young lady and will do whatever it takes to succeed in life, “But ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthing (512).
It became increasingly clear during the course of the story, that Miss Moore was trying to demonstrate to the children the inequality of societal order with statements such as, “Imagine for a minute what kind of society it is in which some people can spend on a toy what it would cost to fees a family of six or seven.” (512). Her lesson did not fall on death ears as Sugar states “that his is not much of a democracy if you ask me. Equal chance to purse happiness means an equal crack at the dough, don’t it?” (512). I think that Miss Moore brought that proverbial seed to a bloom in all of those young children that day with a difficult subject such as the troubles of a society at that time. We should all be as luck as those children, to have someone who helps us learn life lesson early to avoid the pitfalls that may become us.

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