The Lesson (short story)

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"The Lesson" is a short story by Toni Cade Bambara (1938–1995). It was first published in 1972.[1]

The Lesson” is a first person narrative told by a young, black girl named Sylvia who is growing up in Harlem in an unspecified time period known only as “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, 1992). Going by the prices, one can assume the story takes place sometime in the early seventies. The story is about a trip initiated by a well-educated woman named Miss Moore who has taken it upon herself to expose the unappreciative children of the neighborhood to the world outside of their oppressed community. The destination is the FAO Schwarz Toy Store in Manhattan, where the toys aimed at a white market are extremely expensive. Some cost more than the children’s household yearly incomes. The children contemplate the extreme prices. Miss Moore uses the trip to demonstrate how an unjust economic and social system creates unfair access to money and resources for black Americans. The lesson on economic inequality is almost lost on the children, who, too contemptuous to open themselves up to the education offered them by the well-intended Miss Moore, close the story by making plans to spend the left over cab fare change. At the end, however, Sylvia seeks solitude to contemplate the events of the day. The narrator has found a way to direct her own anger and spouts "ain't nobody gonna beat me at nuthin," illustrating how the two main characters choose different paths at the end of the story. This story also emphasizes that individuals who are segregated to certain environments are clueless about the outside world. Its up to "Miss. Moore" an educated elderly lady to show the children that there is more to life than poverty.


  1. ^ Wright, Richard (2011). The Man Who Was Almost a Man. Bedford/ St. Martin’s. p. 883.


  • Friedman, Joe. "Review of Toni Cade Bambara's "The Lesson". HubPages.HubPages Inc. 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2011.
  • Short Stories for Students. "The Lesson". Book Rags. Gale Group. 2000-07. Web. 24 Oct. 2011.
  • Andrew, Richard. “The Man Who Was Almost a Man.” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Compact 8th ed. California: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 878-87. Print.