Economic inequality is something that has been a problem in the United States for years and has not gotten much better. The author, Toni Cade Bambara, wrote a short story called “The Lesson” which is focused on economic inequality during the sixties. Bambara especially focused on the economic inequality in African American communities. She, also, focused on social equality of women and African Americans (Champion 119). Most of her short stories expose social inequalities and try to encourage people to work together to gain economic and social equality.
She writes about inequality, civil rights, and women’s ights because she was an African American and Women’s rights activist (Champion 121). In “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara, the short story shows economic inequality by having children from a New York Slum taking a trip to the high-end, expensive part of New York which compares the difference between the economic classes. The children from the New York Slum point out many things in their neighborhood that show the overall economic status in the neighborhood.
In the beginning of the short story, impoverished living conditions are described when Sylvia, the narrator, is talking about how dirty the neighborhood s (Champion 120). Sylvia, also, points out “the junk man who went about his business like he was some big-time president and his sorry-ass horse his secretary. ” She does not like these two people just because they act more proper. The one lady, Miss Moore, is a college educated woman who dresses nicely and is very proper. Sylvia is very hostile to Miss Moore because of that.
Since Miss Moore is college educated, she takes it upon herself to educate the children that live in her neighborhood and teaches them lessons. In the story, Miss Moore tries to teach them about money and how it is not “divided up right in his country” (Bambara 147). In “Passing it Along in the Relay”: Struggles for Economic Equality in Toni Cade Bambara’s “Raymond’s Run” and “The Lesson” by Laurie Champion, it explains how Miss Moore knows that the children never have seen a lifestyle other than their own so she tells them that they live in a slum and that they are poor (Champion 73).
To show the children a different lifestyle, she decides to take them to an expensive toy store called F. A. O. Schwartz. Miss Moore and all of the children make their way to the toy store and on their way they Miss Moore was talking to them about how much their arents make and how much things cost (Bambara 147). Also, on their way to F. A. O. Schwartz, Sylvia notices a lady wearing a big fur coat and points out that it is too hot to be wearing something like that. Sylvia’s observation is foreshadowing what she will notice in the toy store because it symbolizes “frivolous spending and ostentatious flaunting of wealth” (Champion 119).
Once they arrive at F. A. O. Schwartz, Miss Moore has the children look into the window before they go inside. At first, Sylvia does not notice an economic structure hierarchically but, as the hildren get closer to the store, “they begin to use comparisons that suggest they are becoming aware of class divisions (Champion 74). As Laurie Champion states in “Passing It Along in the Relay: Struggles for Economic Equality in Toni Cade Bambara’s ‘Raymond’s Run’ and The Lesson,” Sylvia becomes progressively aware of the significance of Miss Moore’s trip to F. A. O. Schwartz while she is looking through the window at the toys (Champion 74).
The children notice how expensive the toys are and, specifically, point out the clown, paperweight, sailboat, and microscope. Once Sylvia notices the prices, she feels anguish and confusion but, she does not know why she feels that way (Chamion 74). She becomes progressively angry at Miss Moore as she sees the price tags because Miss Moore forced the lesson upon her (Korb 3). At one point, Sylvia claims that Miss Moore is not that smart because she kept the four dollars that Miss Moore gave her for the taxi ride since Sylvia says that the taxi driver does not need the money as bad as her (Bambara 147).
The unpleasant awareness of the unfairness of the social and economic system that prevails. ” (Korb 1) is the lesson that Miss Moore is trying to teach the children and Sylvia is unsure of why she is anguished because it is such a complicated topic and she is only a child. Since Sylvia is becoming angered by the realization of economic inequality, her and Sugar, who usually talk amongst each other and joke around, are both silent which represents the growing tension (Champion 74).
Sylvia and Sugar are the two kids that learn the lesson the best and “openly or tacitly acknowledge the economic injustice the toys demonstrate” (Korb 2). Sylvia’s realization of the economic inequality is shown when she compares how her family would e able to spend the money on a trip for the whole household to visit their granddaddy, for rent, and for the piano bill instead of buying the thirty-five dollar toy birthday clown (Bambara 150). Then she wonders how the people who shop at F. A. O. Schwartz live and what kinds of jobs they have (Bambara 150).
She, also, compares what she could get at a store in her neighborhood for a few cents to what people get at F. A. O. Schwartz for hundreds of dollars. After the children start to notice the price tags on the toys in the window, Miss Moore tells the children that they can go inside. On their way inside the store, all of the children tiptoe in and barely touch any of the toys (Bambara 150). Once Sugar, one of the children, realizes how expensive everything is, she does not show up in the story until they get into the store (Korb 3).
This shows how shocked they are at the pointless materialism is shown as the main benefit of financial success in the story (Graves 3). Materialism, economic success, and the unequal distribution of wealth in society is represented by F. A. O. Schwartz. Miss Moore represents the idea of “more,’ which also represents inequality.. ” (Champion 119). Another child that Miss Moore took to the toy store, Mercedes, represents the wealthy who shop at the toy store because of the connotations to Mercedes-Benz (Champion 118).
Mercedes, also, talks about how “she will strive to join the ranks of the privileged rather than join with others who might seek to eradicate class hierarchies” (Champion 76). Miss Moore’s lesson showed the children’s poverty .. juxtaposed against the wealth of people who shop at F. A. O. Schwartz” (Champion 73). Sylvia learned the lesson and it shows at the end of the story when she starts referring to herself being in a larger group by saying “we” which hows her mindset going from rags-to-riches (Champion 76).
The “we” helps to get Toni Cade Bambara’s idea across that if people work together as a whole and look at the community goals things could get better. Bambara makes a few “subtle allusions to the power of group efforts and to the benefits individuals at the expense of larger group efforts and the benefits of communal goals” (Champion 75) which helps even more to get the message of working for the community out. Although Sylvia and Sugar somewhat understand the lesson, not all of the children fully understand the social implications of conomic inequality (Champion 77).
Miss Moore’s lesson was to teach the children about the economic inequality so she could “.. promote social systems that offer equality for all” (Champion 75). She also wanted to “.. broaden their understanding of money and economics and to show them how deprived they are” (Graves 2). Her lesson was successful, at least for Sylvia and Sugar, because they saw the comparison between their lives in the slums of New York and the richer part of New York where F. A. O. Schwartz is which shows them the economic inequality in the United States.