Toni Cade Bambara's "The Lesson"

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Within The Lesson, written by Toni Cade Bambara, the question of inequality and poverty arises in response to the juxtaposition of the two neighborhoods in the story, Harlem and Manhattan. Bambara introduces children as the most important occupants of a typical New York slum, mainly in regards to their ability to escape the constraints of their own environment. As highlighted in the story, the elders of this African American community have accepted the social inequality and the economic conditions without question, which only hinders their ability to break away. To contrast this complacency, Miss Moore is portrayed as an independent, educated, and liberal African American woman who not only recognizes the lack of democracy, but who also seeks to educate children and encourage them to demand more from their society. In order highlight the gap between the rich and poor, Miss Moore brings the children to F.A.O Schwarz on Fifth Avenue so they can learn firsthand of their own social conditions compared to the conditions of others. Through Sylvia, the story’s narrator, and her friends Sugar and Q.T, Bambara is able to shed light on the hardships of the poor, while also hinting at the need for a change of attitude within poor African Americans. Additionally, Bambara focuses on the meaning of money in each neighborhood.

Sylvia, the most out-spoken and prideful of the group, immediately recognizes the differences between her community, most likely Harlem, and that of which Fifth Avenue, Manhattan. Although Sylvia cannot recognize her own neighborhood as a slum, or the occupants as poor in the beginning, she slowly realizes that everyone is not equal through the distribution of wealth. Sylvia is angered by the prices in F.A.O Schwarz because she knows that the items for sale are just toys, and that these toys would never take precedent over other things her parents desperately struggle to buy. This is apparent when Sylvia thinks of the thirty-five dollar clown in the...
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