Money Matters: A Critical Analysis of Toni Cade Bambara's "The Lesson".
"The Lesson" by Toni Cade Bambara is a short story set in the inner part of New York City that gives the reader an opportunity to briefly see into the lives of children living devoid of wealth and education. It takes place in the early seventies, following the civil rights movement and during a time when the imbalance of wealth in terms of race was immense. This reflects that, "Toni Cade Bambara is one of the best representatives of the group of Afro-American writers who, during the 1960s, became directly involved in the cultural and sociopolitical activities in urban communities across the country" (Deck). The essential elements that develop the themes of materialism, social inequality, education, and the value of money in "The Lesson" are narrative point of view, tons, symbols, setting, and characterization.
The narrator in "The Lesson" is a young girl named Sylvia who tells the story in first person. Through her we get a picture of the difficulties experienced from growing up in a poor urban area where the gaps in social classes and quality of living are so evident. Sylvia is an intelligent girl, but more street smart than book smart. Her experience outweighs her education, and at the time when the story takes place she doesn"t seem to have any aspiration of ever leaving the slums. As we are exposed to more of Sylvia's personality throughout the story, it becomes clear that the story is told in two different tones. The first tone is one of a child who is still growing, learning and experiencing. The second tone is different, but not drastically. The use of coarse language remains consistent, but the level of intelligence seems to elevate, demonstrated when Sylvia says, "what's there to be afraid of, just a toy store. But I feel funny, shame" (Bambara 60). By saying this, she is showing she has more life experience and understands the feeling of shame and what causes it.