The Lesson

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Innocence as a Handicap in Toni Cade Bambara’s "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...
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