The Lesson: Sylvia's Realization

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Brooke Burns
English 120 BO2
Literary Analysis 2
The Lesson: Sylvia’s Realization

Toni Cade Bambara’s ‘The Lesson’ explores questions of culture and class among a group of children and a woman who takes them on a trip into an expensive department store. While ostensibly the story is a simple narrative about a trip, upon further inspection one realizes the subtle poignancy Bambara is able to achieve. This essay examines the story in terms of the change in the main character Sylvia’s attitude after entering and encountering the F.A.O Schwartz department store. Upon Sylvia’s entrance into F.A.O. Schwartz her opinion and mood show a dramatic change. At the beginning of her entrance into the store Sylvia continues to exhibit the brashness and bravado that she had demonstrated before becoming exposed to this new environment. In these regards, Sylvia follows her friends that joke about possibly stealing items. There is also a subtle culture shock exhibited as the girls question what some of the items function; for example there is a conversation about a paper weight that occurs, with the supervisor having to inform them its function, and the girls joking about how since they have no paper they have no real use for the object. As the story continues it becomes evident that Sylvia’s opinion and mood are notably shifting. One of the first instances in which this is evident occurs when Bambara writes, “Hand-crafted sailboat of fiberglass at one thousand one hundred ninety-five dollars.’ ‘Unbelievable,’ I hear myself say and am really stunned” (Bambara). This is the first instance wherein Sylvia’s culture clash is demonstrated, as she has encountered merchandise that is geared towards individuals outside of her socioeconomic status and has thus changed through the experience. While Sylvia had previously demonstrated brash confidence of her surroundings and a general feeling of mastery, she now has...
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