The Lesson

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