"The Lesson" by Toni Cade Bambara

Topics: Poverty, Wealth, Economic inequality Pages: 5 (1698 words) Published: April 17, 2006
Class Inequality

There comes a time when everybody must experience the discomfort, either positive or negative, in a economic situation. If you come from a low-income family, have you ever found yourself shopping at Saxs Fifth Avenue stores? Or if your wealthy, do you find yourself worry about the prices of such objects? Is this impartial? In the story, "The Lesson" Toni Cade Bambara shows that the reality of the American economic system is unfair.

Bambara illustrates her point that class inequality is unjust through the main character, Sylvia. From the beginning of the story it is clear that Sylvia is a child living in the Harlem projects of New York. Being a part of a distracted group of city kids (Flyboy, Fat Butt, Junebug, Rosie, and Sugar), Sylvia is the most cynical. Poverty is a way of life for these children. Although they know they are poor, it doesn't bother them because everyone they loved around is poor. It's okay to be without when there isn't any competition is that attitude Sylvia possesses. This character's whole life is within the poverty area and she doesn't see why she must try hard. The teacher, Miss Moore, introduced the facts of social inequality to the group of kids by taking them to F.A.O Schwarz, a rich toy store. The kids thought that "everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish but they were the ones just right"(576). Miss Moore showed them what they truly were. Sylvia knows in her mind that she is poor, but it never bothers her until she sees her disadvantages in contrast with the luxuries of being wealthy. As Miss Moore introduces the world of the rich, Sylvia begins to attribute shame to poverty and this makes her question the "lesson" of the story, how "money ain't divided up right in this country"(577).

The F.A.O Schwarz store symbolizes unfairness. Sylvia separates reality as it is and reality as she wants to see it. When the children were talking of their study areas at home, only one of them actually had a desk and paper and the others think nothing of it. Instead they tell her to shut up. The children are proud of themselves and of their life. Miss Moore finally leads the children to the toy store. When they arrive at F.A.O Schwarz, the toys in the windows immediately dazzle the kids. They even start to pick out which ones they want to buy. While Sugar, Rosie, and Big Butt are asking questions and having fun, Sylvia is disturbed by what she sees in the store. She can't figure out why the toys cost so much, when all the other k ids seemed to know they couldn't afford it, but they didn't know they were off by so much. When Sylvia looks at the paperweight, she doesn't understand what is it, and why it costs so much, "my eyes tell me it's a chunk of glass cracked with something heavy, and different-colored inks dripped into the splits, then the whole thing out in a oven or something, But for $480 it don't make sense"(579).The toys in the store cost to much, in her opinion and she can't explain this, which makes her mad. Sylvia looks at a sailboat next and it costs $1, 195 and she can't believe how expensive it is. The outrageous prices are more then she can make sense out of it. "Who'd pay all that when you can buy a sailboat set for a quarter at Pop's, a tube of glue for a dime, and a ball of string for eight cents?"(581) Sylvia begins to compare these toys to what she has, and the comparison makes her angry. She criticizes paying that much for a toy sailboat when she could make it herself for about fifty cents. By finding fault in the rich lifestyle, Sylvia contrasts it with her poverty-stricken lifestyle, and she then alienates herself from being rich.

Sylvia begins to comprehend how she is separated from the wealth, she sees by comparing her own lifestyle with unlimited wealth. When she imagines herself asking her mom for on of the toys in the store, she compares wealth with her personal experience and sees the separation more clearly. Sylvia knows that is she asks her...
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