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POV in T. Bambara's THE LESSON

A Summary of "The Lesson"



To understand the short story, “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara, you have to understand the time and place in which Bambara attended college and come of age as a writer. It was the 60’s, it was Harlem (see The Black Renaissance), and Bambara was at the forefront of radical politics, the feminist movement, and African American culture (Harlem, 2008). Her writing exposes the injustices and inequalities imposed on African Americans of that time, that mainstream America avoided and could not infiltrate. The story is a lesson and a window for the reader into Bambara’s reality, as much as it is a lesson and a window for the young female harlemite, Sylvia, who is the main character.
“The Lesson” is a first person narrative told by a young, poor, black girl growing up in Harlem in an unspecified time period known only as “Back in the days when everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish and me and Sugar were the only ones just right”(Bambara, 1992). Going by the prices one can assume it was sometime in the early seventies. The story is about a trip initiated by a local woman, who being the only educated person in the neighborhood, has taken it upon herself to expose the unappreciative children of the neighborhood to the world outside of their oppressed community. The destination is FAO Schwartz in Manhattan, where the toys of white children cost more than all of the children’s household yearly incomes combined. The lesson is almost lost on the children, who too contemptuous to open themselves up to the education offered them by the well intentioned Miss Moore, close the story by making plans to spend the left over cab fare change they stole from Miss Moore. At the last second Sylvia turns on her friend and goes off alone to contemplate the events of the day.