The Lesson by Tony Cade Bambara

We all learn differently. We can learn from books, from other’s life. We can also learn the hard way and easy way. Either way, learning can be painful for all of us. Especially for children who have to experience the real life around them. The short story “The Lesson” by Toni Carde Bambara, shows seven poor children who experience where they are a level of economy the hard way. Even though it hurts for the seven children to force the lesson down their throats, such lesson become the lesson that is necessary and valuable for them to change their life in the future. Bambara’s short story “The Lesson, starts out with seven children: Sylvia, Sugar, Junebug, Fat Butt, Mercedes, Rosie Girrafe, Flyboy, who live in a poor neighborhood. Sylvia is the main character in the story, from the way she speaks in the story; she is an uneducated child, same as the other six children who are with her at the time. Miss Moore is the educated woman in Sylvia’s neighborhood with the college degree. Miss Moore usually calls all the children to learn some information, such as arithmetic, money and other educated information. None of the children enjoy Miss Moore’s lecture when Miss Moore gathers them up at the mailbox.

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After the lecture, Miss Moore decided to bring the children to the expensive toy store called F.A.O Schwartz. All children are stunned at the expensive toys, especially Sylvia. Not only Sylvia is amazed, but also angry and ashamed at the same time, but not sure where she should express her anger to. Sylvia learns the hard way what kind of economic position she is in. From that lesson, she learns a way to make herself work hard to compete and survive in her economic life. The symbolism in “The Lesson” starts out with the mailbox that the children gather around with. Before Miss Moore takes them out to see a toy store called F.A.O Schwartz, all of the children, Sylvia, Sugar, Mercedes, Junebug, Fat Butt, Q.T, Flyboy, and Rosie Giraffe come together at the mailbox to learn a lesson from Miss Moore. A mailbox is a box where a mail can be sent or received. The children can be seen as the mail ready to be sent out to learn some new knowledge about life. Another symbol is the toys that the children observe while they are at the toy store. One of the toys is a sailboat. Sailboat is used to bring people out to the sea to travel or learn new experiences. The
Sailboat represents the children being sent out to discover new experiences about life. Another toy that the children observe is the microscope. Microscope is used to see invisible bacteria. The microscope represents some kind of reminder for the children to see their real life and what kind of economic position they are in.

Another symbolism is the clown toy that Sylvia admired. The toy is a clown which can be represent as a joke to Sylvia. The clown costs $35, which is expensive for Sylvia at the time. She imagined how many foods and home appliance can her family buy with that $35. The clown represent as a joke and a reminder at the same time to Sylvia economics’ position. Each character is represented differently in the story. In addition, the children also respond differently to the toys that they have been seeing. The main character, Sylvia, is the character who is stubborn and bad mannered. However, she can also be the clever one because she stole four dollars from Miss Moore’s taxi change. Even though Sylvia complain and criticize Miss Moore, in her mind, she realizes that she actually learn a valuable lesson after her visits to F.A.O Schwartz, only she does not want to express it to Miss Moore. In the end of the story, Sylvia mentions at the end “…ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nothin.” Sylvia knows that deep in her mind, she needs to work harder in order to compete against other people who are above her economic level. From the way Sylvia is angry at the store, it is clear that it is not easy for Sylvia to see where she is economically. Even though the lesson that Miss Moore gives can be a stab in the heart for Sylvia and the other children, the lesson becomes to be the valuable one for them because they will remember to work harder and change their life. In page 2001, Miss Moore gives a lecture about money and how poor they are. Sylvia, on the other hand, seems to disagree on that because she is trying to speak and talk back to Miss Moore until the taxi came.

The children do not seem to respond very well to Miss Moore’s lectures. However, they respond and understand the lesson better after they experience the reality of where they are economically. The children’s characters show that even though learning a lesson can be a pain for children, it is still important for them to learn. When the children complain about not being able to buy the toys, the complaints show that they are in different level of economy. Mercedes seems to be the only ones with positive thoughts. For example, in page 2002, when they talked about paperweight, Mercedes is the only one who mentions that she has stationery and a desk, while the others say that they do not even have a desk to place a paperweight with. Also in page 2004, Mercedes is pushes out of the group when she said she will go back to the store when she has the money. In addition, Flyboy seems the be to most poor child in the group because he mentions he does not have a home (2002). The group, however, do not seem to favor the ones who is too rich or too poor. For example, Sylvia says that the white people just want to feel sorry for Flyboy when he mentions he does not have a home. The group also pushes Mercedes out of the circle because she is the one who has enough. This show the children started to be able to discern the different level of economy, and start to see how unfair their life is in a democracy country.

From “The Lesson,” we can see how hard, yet important it is for children to learn real life experiences. Bambara uses the children characters because they are the ones who have more chances to change to way economy works in the future. Even though it hurts for children to see where they are economically, especially the poor ones, by giving them a lesson, they will remember and learn what they must do to change their life.

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