Character Perspective in Toni Bambaras The Lesson

January 4, 2017 General Studies

One??™s perspective about society can be altered significantly for the better once it becomes exposed to a life lesson. The sensation of finding out the true and heartbreaking state of one??™s social status position among others and knowing that not much can be done about it is dreadful. While a number of people ignore the reality of poverty and its capacity for a meaningless future, others become mentally stronger about their situation and devise personal objectives which can lift them on the social ladder. In Toni Bambara??™s short story ???The Lesson???, the narrator is given a life lesson against her will that, in the end, proves to be more significant to her than she first realized. The character introduced by Bambara as the eye-opener for the poverty-stricken kids is an educated and intelligent African-American lady who noticed that they are in need of assistance for overcoming adversity. Sadly, poverty is still a big issue today that prospering countries need to deal with. It??™s the same problem occurring in the setting of this story, which is just around 40 years ago. Living in a racial and class injustice environment, the narrator in ???The Lesson??? realizes the differences between people within a society through social issues, economic problems and the depths one would surpass to achieve superiority.
Sylvia, the narrator, faces social adversity when her family had troubles with poverty and were forced to move up North. Her family??™s decision to move in a big city like New York was an attempt to create a better future for everyone. This, however, failed because their position on the social ladder is underneath the normal class citizens who do not have problems paying the rent or bringing food on the table by a big margin. When Miss Moore gets introduced in the short story, the narrator quickly reveals how she hates the woman because her parents would ???yank [her] head into some kinda shape and crisp up [her] clothes so [she??™d] be presentable for travel with Miss Moore??? (98). Her reaction to the educated woman??™s ???fancy??™ clothing and the need for her to dress the same shows how she is not used to dressing like a typical citizen would in the city and misses the point of wearing decent clothes for the society. Another point that reveals the barrier between the kids and higher-class people is when Sylvia criticizes white people wearing fur coats. Her conclusion to their choices in clothing is that ???white folks [are] crazy??? (100). The narrator??™s point of view starts to change when she suddenly felt ashamed when the kids were about to enter the toy store. She begins to understand how only people above her social status could feel natural when trying to enter a fancy store, and knows that she does not belong in a place like that. This realization parallels her thoughts to an incident at a Catholic church where she equally felt ashamed of trying to disrupt an activity that was beyond her class status. Sylvia??™s attitude shows change when they are inside the toy store and her close friend Sugar touches the expensive boat. Her jealousy of wanting to touch the boat as well shows how she knows that she has less chances of enjoyment than other kids who are better-off. The lesson proved to be effective for Sylvia as she questions how people can afford the toy boat and her family will never be able to. Unlike Sugar, she does not show her appreciation of Miss Moore??™s valuable message and continues to act like it was a waste of time. Even with the childish behaviour, she concludes the story by showing that her perspective did change because of her social status when she remarks that ???nobody gonna beat [her] at nothing??? (104).
Apart from social injustice, the narrator??™s perspective also changes at some point in the story because of the economic distinction of her neighbourhood and the rest of the city. Sylvia is used to take the subway to wherever she went as it is much cheaper to travel on it than by taxis. Subways symbolize a fixed path one would be able to travel, whereas with a taxi, one would have the liberty of going anywhere. She begins to see the economic distinction when the kids were given the opportunity to take a taxi to their destination with an amount of money that was overwhelming for her when she thought of all the ways she can spend the rest of it on. This also explains how people cannot control their urges to deplete the money they made as they are not used to having such a large amount. Sylvia becomes more conscious of the situation that she??™s in when the group of kids reach the toy store and notice the astronomical prices of the objects inside. She explains how the price of a clown in the store ???would pay for the rent and the piano bill??? (103). At this point, her point of view on the economic situation finally turns to the reality of it. The narrator comes to the point of understanding that she cannot expect expensive objects like the ones sold in the toy store as her family could barely get by in a month with the price of a novelty item.
Finally, Sylvia becomes aware in ???The Lesson??? of some people who would go through a lot of hardship just to prove that they are superior to others. The prime example in this short story is Mercedes, the only girl out of the group who seems to not be troubled by poverty. Her name symbolizes the elite group of people that she??™s part of, just like the car maker is among others. She first tries to gain superiority in the group when she brags about the amount of things that she owns on her desk at home, while some of the others confessed of not even owning a desk. This upsets Sylvia because she??™s a strong character who does not enjoy feeling inferior among her friends. The narrator also realizes that people like Mercedes would buy inanimate objects to feel better than other and have power over them. When the group was staring at an expensive toy boat, Mercedes tries to prove superiority by stating that ???My father??™d buy it for me if I wanted it??? (102). Even when the narrator and Sugar hangs back in shame, Mercedes takes lead in entering the store. Sylvia??™s perspective about that group of people changes to not being able to stand them as she shoves the odd friend out of the group toward the end of the story.
Lessons are more significant to some people than other in the sense of some are able of retaining valuable information by the end of it. For Sylvia, the narrator of the short story ???The Lesson???, Miss Moore??™s trip to the toy store became much more than just a waste of time for her. She surrenders to the realities of life, which show the differences between certain classes of people through the economic problems of poverty, social and racial issues, and the attempts of richer people to become more superior to the poorer by owning inanimate objects.


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