In Toni Cade Bambara's, "The Lesson", the story seems kind of linear when you start reading it. At first, it is just about a girl named Sylvia and her childish, rebellious nature toward Miss Moore. But you later discover that there is much more to this story than you initially expected. The seemingly insignificant quarrels that Sylvia has with Miss Moore have a deeper meaning to it. The resolution of the conflict between Sylvia and Miss Moore shows the struggle Sylvia has regarding whether she should not learn things because it appears like a weakness to her or to learn and accept what Miss Moore is trying to teach her.
The conflict between Sylvia and Miss Moore is because of Sylvia's understanding of the division between the rich and the poor. Sylvia lives in a very poor neighborhood so it is assumed that she and her friend get around by stealing things. This is shown when Sugar asks, "Can we steal?" in a serious tone like she's getting the ground rules squared away before she plays. (Bambara, 458) Another example is when Miss Moore tells Sylvia to calculate ten percent of five dollars to tip the cab driver. Sylvia replies, "And I'm stalling to figure out the tip and Sugar say give him a dime. And I decide he don't need it as bad as I do, so later for him." (Bambara, 458) This shows Sylvia's selfish nature, which stems from the ghetto she grew up in.
Miss Moore tries to show Sylvia and her friends the division between their poor society and the neighborhood of the people who are in a higher society. She says, "Imagine for a minute what kind of society it is in which some people can spend on a toy what it would cost to feed a family of sex or seven." (Bambara, 461) Sylvia begins to understand and wonder about the division between the poor and rich as well.
"And, evidently as a consequence of her knowledge, she has more money - enough to hire two cabs to take the kids to F.A.O. Schwarz and not worry about the $4.00 change that Sylvia has kept and which Miss Moore surely has not forgotten." (Cartwright 62) As a consequence of this fact, the children are jealous of her and dislike her because of it. "The story is essentially about Miss Moore's efforts to teach the children and their resistance, especially Sylvia's, to learning anything." (Cartwright 62) I agree with Cartwright's statement and this basically summarizes the theme of the story, which stems from Sylvia and her group's implicit jealously of Miss Moore's higher status in society.
The Contemporary literary criticism states,
"Finally, she indirectly indicated the type of urban environment in which she lives; 'And we kinda hated [Miss Moore]...the way we did the winos who cluttered up out parks and pissed on our handball courts halfway play hide and seek without a goddamn gas mask.'" (88:13)
This displays that Sylvia understands the type of environment that she lives in which brings up the dispute she has with Miss Moore. "She also reveals that she and her cousin live with...