12 April 2012
Short Story Analysis: “The Lesson”
Toni Cade Bambara, a Harlem-born author, embraces culture, community, and background through her short story “The Lesson”. She has the main character Miss Moore discuss the struggles African Americans have with Caucasians involving social class, poverty, and equality. For many years after the abolition of slavery, African Americans were still looked down upon and considered a lower social class in certain societies. Bambara uses language as a powerful tool for describing America during the 1960s through the eyes of a young girl named Sylvia, a proud, sensitive, tough girl who is far too smart to ignore the ...view middle of the document...
Bambara utilizes sassy language to make a commentary on this relationship when Sylvia rudely highlights the shade of Miss Moore's skin, “And she was black as hell” (394). Sylvia also refers to her own family members' having "all moved north the same time” (393). These comments also give clues about the characters' race and their recent move to New York from the South.
In the opening sentence of "The Lesson," Bambara clearly indicates that Sylvia is narrating in AAVE. Here, Sylvia describes Miss Moore as an adult with "nappy hair". The word “nappy” originated in AAVE and is one of the many examples shown in this text. Sylvia also notices that Miss Moore has "proper speech". In contrast to the children in the story, Miss Moore is college-educated and speaks Standard American English. According to Sylvia, the other blacks in the neighborhood tended to laugh at Miss Moore, make fun of her behind her back. However, the black adults respect Miss Moore's education and allow her to teach their children in an informal summer school session. At first, Sylvia and the other kids view Miss Moore's lessons as boring, but by the end of the story, they have a greater respect for her after the revolutionary field trip. Miss Moore takes them to the F. A. O. Schwarz and says, “imagine for a minute what kind of society it is in which some people can spend on a toy what it would cost to feed a family…” (399). This makes the children question the fairness of social and economic class in America. In the 1974 essay "On the Issue of Black English," Bambara writes that the goal of teaching black children should not be to force-feed Standard American English, white conversational rituals, or mindless answers to questions. Instead she says that teachers should strive to develop question-oriented students. Miss Moore may represent one aspect of Bambara...