In Toni Cade Bambara’s 1972 short story “The Lesson,” two young, spirited girls from the blue collar district of New York embark on a field trip into a world as foreign to them as if divided by oceans while only a cab ride away. This journey challenges the girls to look not only at the economical but social diversity in our culture and the ways in which it shapes society.
Sylvia was a young girl who felt comfortable in her surroundings. She was, in a sense, a
bully. Her threatening personality is demonstrated in multiple areas throughout our story line
such as, going to the Sunset and terrorizing the West Indian kids by taking their hair ribbons and
money (651). She found fault in others as a way to compensate for a low self esteem. Her critical
views toward Miss Moore for being black as hell and always planning boring ass trips (650), calling Flyboy a faggot, and giving nicknames such as Big Butt and Junebug. In her attempt to be a leader it becomes evident she is a follower. She was still competitive in spirit.
It is obvious that Sylvia has grown up with limited resources as her astonishment is
referenced in numerous areas. She says she needed the money more than the cab driver did.
She also talks about the people on Fifth Avenue in stockings and a fur coat (651). Once they
entered the store she was scared to touch anything. She compared the cost of the toys with the
cost of a few months rent. She speaks of the “Handcrafted sailboat of fiberglass at one thousand one hundred ninety-five dollars.” She says “unbelievable” (652). Sylvia is blown away by the things she had witnessed that day.
At the end of the trip Mrs. Moore finishes with another boring ass lecture and asks if
anyone had learned anything. A few of them speak up including Sugar, but Sylvia steps on her
feet trying to shut her up. Sugar pushes her off and again joins the conversation. Sylvia, being
full of pride, walked away. While pride appears to be the culprit to the reader, the underlying
issue is self doubt and fear. Creating a wall not visibly penetrated. It is not until she is truly
challenged by her best friend that she finds the inner strength that will guide and direct her. She says “ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nothing” (655)