The Short Story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara
Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson” is a short story, written in 1972 and published as a part of a collection called “Gorilla, My Love”. The story is told from the point of view of a black girl in a poor neighborhood. The story touches on the themes of childhood, social justice, poverty, inequality, and race. There is much value in understanding systemic issues. From a realization of underlying injustice, comes the opportunity for growth and improvement of the entire nation. The short story, in its plot, emphasizes a need to educate children about systematic problems, while also reinforcing the existence of such issues in the modern age. Written in the 70’s, its message still resonates strongly in today’s world. Using an understandable and straightforward example, Bambara teaches the readers about the central role social inequality has in American society, and teaching this to children is vital.
The story centers on the theme of understanding injustice. Seeing the way Ms. Moore’s lesson changes the children’s outlook shows the audience why educating kids about social issues is important. The story is told from the point of view of Sylvia, who is one of the neighborhood children (Bambara, 1986). As a young black girl at the time, she lives in an area with poor education, which is stated at the start of the story. Ms. Moore a university graduate, who “moved on our block with nappy hair and proper speech and no makeup” takes it upon herself to take the children on a trip (Bambara, 1986). The narrator, along with other kids, is poorly educated and unaware of the many things in life. They dislike Ms. Moore’s efforts to teach them, and consider her boring “I’m really hating this nappy-head bitch and her goddamn college degree” (Bambara, 1986). Moore took it upon herself to help children better understand the concepts of racial inequality and poverty within their community. As a part of their trip, the children visit a toy store in a rich area of Manhattan. The prices in the store shock children, many of whom struggle to comprehend the financial disparity. However, by the end of the trip, the neighborhood kids end up realizing what poverty means, and how they are different from many white children. Ms. Moore emphasizes the role of one’s birthplace and family in their identity, which is also one of the ways to understand systematic injustice.
Messages of the story are built as both an introduction, and a stepping stone towards examining the American society. It is a mirrored look into how many black families had to struggle for survival while their white counterparts enjoyed fruits of the industrial age. Systematic inequality does not disappear after simple sweeping changes in legislation, neither does it stop existing if people are considered equal by law. A more complex understanding of society helps both children and future adults alike to improve the world. Making better personal decisions, pushing for change, or critically viewing the inherent systems of social order are all skills that “lessons” similar to Ms. Moore’s can teach.
In order to ensure that the new generations are able to live in the quickly growing world and overcome adversity, it is necessary to teach them appropriately. “The Lesson” is a story that shows an example of this and acts as a tool of enlightenment. Furthermore, it also highlights some of the more pressing emergent problems of the time it was written in. A deep engagement with the subject of income inequality is beneficial both for one’s mental and social growth.
Bambara, T. C. (1986). Gorilla, my love. The Women’s Press.