Characters of Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson”
The story chosen for analysis is the work of Toni Cade Bambara “The Lesson”. The author’s main argument is that the black population has the highest level of child poverty among all racial groups in the United States. Toni Bambara conveys her point of view through the story of Sylvia – a black teenage girl – and her friends who encounter the world of their schoolteacher Miss Moore. The difference between Fifth Avenue and the black neighborhood in which the characters grew up seems striking. Financial prosperity, luxury, beauty and cleanliness have a strong impact on the main characters. It is through this contrast of two opposing worlds that Tony Bambara demonstrates her point of view.
The primary audience the author hopes to persuade is more privileged members of society. The most important feature of human society is that it is very heterogeneous and divided into social groups and social strata. This work is addressed to the persuade of people belonging to the highest social stratum. It includes people who have greater financial security, influence, opportunities for self-realization and level of education than the black population. They often do not think about those who have fewer rights and advantages, because they do not realize that they have privileges and a prestigious position in society.
The key conflict that has prompted the writer to take her particular stance is the story of her own life. The course of disconnection undertaken by America has haunted Toni Cade Bambara for almost her entire life. Toni faced racial segregation and discrimination on a daily basis. She was perceived—and treated in a certain way – because of her skin tone. Bambara’s task was to create a field of literature in which blacks wrote for whites and, at the expense of a new language, rammed the dominant management systems that generate inequality. In particular, thanks to her, the literature of the outskirts and outliers, crowding on the periphery, has become mainstream.
The stakeholders of the conflict are both politicians and cultural figures, as well as ordinary citizens of different racial backgrounds. If the conflict remains unresolved, the struggle against the privileges of the white race will intensify and affect all spheres of life. At the same time, the struggle for the rights of blacks can go too far and in business, education and even in the legislative sphere, such a phenomenon as reverse discrimination — oppression of whites can arise. Therefore, if the struggle against white privilege does not succeed in trying to protect the oppressed groups, American society will rise to the brink of division. There can even appear a threat of civil war over the racial issue.
I interpret the author’s message as a call to highlight an acute social problem and believe that it is quite credible. Despite the fact that there has been an active struggle against racial prejudice in recent decades, there are still many active actions to be taken. They demand the consciousness not only of the oppressed black population, but also of the more privileged white citizens. Society and the State should react sharply to any manifestations of intolerance, punishing the guilty both morally and legally. In order for a comprehensive system of power distribution to stop dividing society into oppressors and oppressed, it is necessary to change the mentality of the white population.
The primary source of conflict in Bambara’s work, which is reflected in the main characters – schoolchildren – begins from childhood. Teenagers belonging to national minorities find it difficult to withstand the influence that the environment has on them. Children in mixed schools face a biased attitude from teachers, bullying from classmates and high school students. Children who study in racially segregated schools are less likely to receive a quality education and enroll in higher education. Bambara addresses these primary conflicts in her story, demonstrating how discrimination affects the formation of the child’s psyche in an extremely negative way.
The characters of the story “The Lesson” at once concretize the author’s message and make readers care about what she is saying. Bambara introduces many vivid scenes in which she demonstrates the acute social inequality of children of different racial backgrounds. One of these scenes is a trip on an excursion to Fifth Avenue, where children go to a toy store (Bambara 3). White children have a huge number of toys, and choose between constructors, soft toys, a huge number of cars and dolls. However, it seems to black heroes an unprecedented luxury to spend $ 480 on toys (Bambara 4). Through the main characters, the author emphasizes that a black family is forced to live on the money that a privileged white family easily spends on entertainment.
The text is written in accordance with the expectations of the audience; the way the characters of different races interact with each other is designed to emphasize the existing differences. Since this story is primarily aimed at influencing the white reader, many of the characters in the book are white. The emotions that readers should experience are introduced by the author through a character with whom the audience is likely to identify themselves. This is the character of Miss Moore, a teacher for whom the conditions in which black children find themselves become as shocking as they are for readers.
Character motivation directly impacts the author’s premise examining social, racial, and economic conditions that complicate a peaceful resolution. For example, without knowing the context of the situation, it would be possible to negatively treat Sugar’s question about whether it is possible to steal a toy (Bambara 2). However, in the context of history, his question highlights the acute social problem raised by the author. The reader sees the character of the hero – he is a naive, pure child who does not feel anger and does not want to harm anyone (Bambara 5). However, the social, racial and economic circumstances in which he finds himself may force him to commit contradictory acts.
One of the scientific sources that can confirm my point of view is the article by Nicoli Nattrass. In it, as in the story “The Lesson”, the problem of education among the black population is raised (Nattrass 140). Despite the steps taken in terms of assimilation towards integration, it is still difficult for most countries to cope with some problems. The study, as well as the story, revealed such unresolved problems of minorities as problems with academic performance and discipline due to the conflict of family and school values and low material security. The emergence of situations associated with negative stereotypes and discrimination also prevents black students from getting a full education.
The article by Pfeffer and Killewald puts the problem raised by Bambara in proper historical and cultural context relevant for today’s audiences. The authors describe how many groups find themselves at the bottom of social life, suffering from poverty, discrimination and degradation (Pfeffer and Killewald 723). They show how different ethnic and racial groups become victims of inequality in society. The relations that are developing between ethnic and racial groups at the moment, as in the days of Bambara, are an unresolved issue.
Bambara’s work forced more privileged people to talk about social injustice and oppression faced by certain categories of the population. It is especially important to realize their own advantage to the white population. This part of the citizens, unlike the black population, have higher salary plans and greater access to education. Thus, it is necessary to continue working on the existing gap between people of different races. The success of the measures taken will also directly depend on the behavior of the privileged part of society.
Racial discrimination and inequality invariably attract attention because they reflect the fundamental contradiction between reality and the egalitarian ideal that forms the core of the American democratic system. These problems are ubiquitous and, to one degree or another, affect all major racial minorities and the most important aspects of public life. Attempts to eradicate racial discrimination and inequality have encountered deeply rooted racist views, with established group and institutional interests aimed at preserving the status quo. A long campaign against these phenomena has brought significant success. The conditions in which black Americans and other minorities now find themselves are in some respects much more favorable than a few decades ago. However, as in the days of Bambara, the problem is still quite acute and much remains to be done.
Bambara, Toni. The Lesson. Washington Square Press, 1972.
Nattrass, Nicoli. “Why Are Black South African Students Less Likely to Consider Studying Biological Sciences?” South African Journal of Science, vol. 116, no. 5, 2020, pp. 132-142.
Pfeffer, Fabian, and Alexandra Killewald. “Intergenerational Wealth Mobility and Racial Inequality.” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, vol. 98, no. 3, 2019, pp. 706-741.