The Lesson Essay Research Paper The LessonThe

The Lesson Essay, Research Paper

The Lesson

The Lesson, by Toni Cade Bambara, portrays a group of children living in the

slums of New York City around 1972. They seem to be content living in poverty in

some very unsanitary conditions. One character, Miss Moore, the children?s

self appointed mentor, takes it upon herself to further their education during

the summer months. She feels this is her civic duty because she is educated. She

used F.A.O. Schwarz, a very expensive toystore, to teach them a lesson and

inspire them to strive for success and attempt to better themselves and their


At the beginning of the story, the author gives us the feeling that a child

is narrating this story. She also shows that the child, Sylvia, is at that age

where she feels that adults are silly and she knows everything. ?Back in the

days when everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish and me and Sugar were

the only ones just right, this lady moved on our block with nappy hair and

proper speech and no makeup.? (Bambara 470) Sylvia also tells us about her

environment while referencing Miss Moore. ?And we kidna hated her too, hated

the way we did the winos who cluttered up our parks and pissed on our handball

walls and stank up our hallways and stairs so you couldn?t halfway play

hide-and-seek without a damn gas mask. Miss Moore was her name. The only woman

on the block without a first name.? (Bambara 470) This is our introduction to


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Moore. She is an educated, well groomed person and the children resent her

because she is different and their parents force them to spend time with her in

the interest of education.

On the day the story takes place, Miss Moore has rounded up the neighborhood

kids and is going to bring them to F.A.O. Schwarz. Sylvia has a poor attitude

toward the excursion because she feels that her day could have been better

spent. ?So this one day Miss Moore rounds us all up at the mailbox and its

purdee hot and she?s knocking herself up about arithmetic. And school suppose

to let up in summer I heard, but she don?t never let up.? (Bambara 470) Miss

Moore hailed the group two cabs, and they were off.

When they arrive at their destination, the author gives up another clue

toward the extent of the childen?s poverty. ?Then we check out that we on

fifth avenue and everybody dressed up in stockings. One lady in a fur coat hot

as it is. White folks crazy.? (Bambara 471)

At the store, it is not long before the children begin seeing things that

interest them. The first of these is a microscope that costs $300. Miss Moore

comments on the educational value of microscopes but the children poke fun at

the idea. ??Hey, I?m going to buy that there.?

?That there? You don?t even know what it is, stupid.?

?I do so,? he say punchin Rosie Giraffe. ?It?s a microscope.?

?Whatcha gonna do with a microscope, fool??

?Look at things.? (Bambara 471)

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The next interesting item that the kids find is a very expensive paperweight.

While discussing it, Miss Moore is sure to convey that while the object is very

expensive, it?s purpose is very trivial. ??This here costs $480 dollars,?

say Rosie Giraffe. So we pile up all over her to see what she pointing out. My

eyes tell me it?s a chunk of glass cracked with something heavy, and

different-color inks dripped into the splits, then the whole thing put into an

oven or something. But for $480 dollars it don?t make sense.

?That?s a paperweight made of semi-precious stones fused together under

ttemendous pressure,? she explains slowly, with her hands doing all the mining

and the factory work.

?So what?s a paperweight?? asks Rosie Giraffe.

?To weigh paper down with, dumbbell,? says Flyboy, the wise man from the


?Not exactly,? says Miss Moore, which is what she say when you warm or

way off, too. ?It?s to weigh paper down so it won?t scatter and make your

desk untidy.??(Bambara 472)

The last item the author comments on is a sailboat. ?We all start reciting

the pricetag like we?re in assembly. ?Handcrafted sailboat made of

fiberglass at one thousand one hundred ninety-five dollars.?

?Unbelieveable, ? I hear myself say and am really stunned.? (Bambara

472) The prices of the previous two items stunned the children, but the sailboat

really brought home the idea.

At the end of the story is when Miss Moore?s motive was revealed. She did

not want to bring the kids on a field trip. She was interested in giving them a

drive to succeed by showing them that some people are very successful and can

afford such things. She hopes that they will want to be one of those people

instead of a person that, like so many others, are just content with what they


Roberts, Edgar V., Jacobs, Henry E. ?Literature.? The Lesson. 470-475.

Toni Cade Bambara. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 2001


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