“The Lesson” Sylvia’s initiation in the short story The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara, is striking because Miss Moore gives the opportunity to the children to evaluate the difference between the fifth avenue and their poor neighborhood. However, one of the story’s main themes is that innocence is a handicap and the political and moral innocence that are represented from the beginning to the end of the story brings the main character to many reflections.
This idea is revealed as Sylvia’s ignorance towards the different social classes, Sylvia’s questions on the purpose of wealth and the hard realization of the true facts of inequality. Due to the children’s lack of political and moral knowledge, Miss Moore, a well educated woman, takes Sylvia and her friends to Fifth Avenue. This experience is useful because it gives them the opportunity to reflect upon social issues that are related to money. Sylvia’s behavior towards Miss Moore and people she don’t know is very self-centered.
She is judging without knowing and she feels superior to educated person because she does not understand the purpose of getting educated. The main character over estimate herself and she demonstrate this fact at the beginning of the story by saying that “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 116). In this line, Sylvia makes references to Miss Moore and to unknown people. She finds everybody around her stupid except her and sugar.
The author uses the words “young”, “old”, “foolish” and “stupid”, to put the emphasis on the intensity of Sylvia’s selfishness. She does not understand why people are proud to be educated because she is insulting Miss Moore as follow: “I’m really hating this nappy-head bitch and her goddamn college degree” (Bambara 116). In this passage, the strong insults emphasize the nonexistent importance Sylvia is according to school. For Sylvia, having a college degree is a way for Miss Moore to overestimate herself instead of increasing her life’s quality.
Sylvia is victim of her innocence she thinks that education is useless nevertheless; it is a good way to accesses higher life quality. When Miss Moore brings Sylvia and the other children of the poor neighborhood to F. A. O Schwarz, Sylvia starts to question herself instead of ignoring, running down and being innocent of important social issues. When she sees very expensive items at the toy store, it brings questions to her brain such as “Who’d pay all that when you can buy a sailboat set for a quarter at Pop’s, tube of glue for a dime, and a ball of string for eight cents? (Bambara 119).
Sylvia starts realizing that there are some objects that she cannot afford and she does not make the difference between the products’ quality. Bambara uses comparisons between very expensive toys and low price toys to emphasize how deep Sylvia’s lack of knowledge is towards the evident difference linking the poor and rich. During her initiation, she feels ashamed and she does not want to accept that she is not belonging to the upper class: “So me and Sugar turn the corner to where the entrance is, but when we get there, I kinda hand back.
Not that I’m scared, what’s there to be afraid of just a toy store. But I feel funny, shame” (Bambara 119). Sylvia feels ashamed when she faces the store because she realizes that it contains inaccessible objects and it makes her feels small. Bambara uses Sylvia’s being on the defensive behaviour to express How hard it is for her to admit that she belong to the poor social class of the country. At this point of the story, Sylvia is discovering a new life style for the first time.
The principal character now faces the truth about social inequities but by the end of the book, she is sure that she is the champion of her experience. After the day spend at the toy store, Sylvia remembered a special clown that costs thirty five dollars and she thinks that is she asks her mother that much money she would respond that “Thirty five dollars could buy new bunk beds for junior and Gretchen’s boy. Thirty five dollars and the whole household could go visit Granddaddy Nelson in the country” (Bambara 120).
By making this comparison with what it is possible to afford with thirty five dollars, Sylvia realizes that an amount of money is not the same for all. The comparison between a toy and beds makes Sylvia understand that what can serves as buying a toy for one family can be on the other side the money to afford basic survival needs. Despite her initiation, Sylvia still innocent because she did not understand the purpose of the day spend at F. A. O Schwarz when she says “but ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin” (Bambara 121).
Sylvia has to come out the winner, it’s her true personality. The four dollars she has left at the end now belonged to her. She feels it is the paycheck for the lesson. The author demonstrates the fact that Sylvia does not understand the moral of the day because of her nature. Despite the fact that Sylvia faces the truth and realizes that wealth is not for everyone, she is happy because she had Miss Moore’s money left. There is more than one kind of innocence presented in this short story and the character’s innocence is never benefit.
Miss Moore brings Sylvia and her friends in an environment completely different from their living places for one day and it brings Sylvia to think how the wealth is devised in the United-states. Sylvia lives in the ghetto and her innocence about how helpful it can be to received an education, brings her to think that people who are educated are naive if they think they are superior. By visiting the toy store, the principal character is having a hard time digesting the true facts of inequality.
By thinking about how her mother would react is she asks her money for a toy, Sylvia realizes that the money her family needs for basics needs only serve as entertainment purpose for the rich and it makes her feels small. The Lesson is a striking example of how being innocent can be bad for someone’s success. Bambara demonstrates that initiation is a good way to discover a new world that brings a person to think and reflect upon ways to increase their life’s quality.