The Power of Personality in Toni Cade Bambara’s The Lesson
Developing character is something that comes with time. I believe that there are three major things that effect how people develop their character—where they are from, which includes their financial status; how they are raised; and the character of the people that have had the most influence on their lives. Sylvia, in Toni Cade Bambara’s "The Lesson," is very much influenced by all of these factors. Sylvia’s living in the slums and being poor makes her defensive and judgmental. Her parents not being around much leaves her without the attention and discipline that children need to develop to their fullest. Lastly, her friends and Miss Moore also have a great influence on how Sylvia thinks and acts, and lead Sylvia to be observant but also angry and stubborn. All of these characteristics not only determine Sylvia’s personality, but also are the basis for why I think Sylvia will not apply Miss Moore’s lesson.
Sylvia’s being poor influences the way in which she sees other people and feels about them. Sylvia lives in the slums of New York; it is the only life she knows and can realistically relate to. She does not see herself as poor or underprivileged. Rather, she is content with her life, and therefore resistant to change. Sylvia always considered herself and her cousin as "the only ones just right" in the neighborhood, and when an educated woman, Miss Moore, moves into the neighborhood, Sylvia feels threatened. Ms. Moore is threatening to her because she wants Sylvia to look at her low social status as being a bad thing, and Sylvia "doesn’t feature that." This resistance to change leads Sylvia to be very defensive and in turn judgmental. Sylvia is quick to find flaws in other people as when she makes remarks about Miss Moore with her "nappy hair," the garbage man and "his sorry-ass," and the crazy white woman "in the fur coat hot as it is." When Sylvia judges other people very critically it probably makes her feel better about herself, but it also prevents her from realizing that how she judges others is exactly what she is afraid of having done to her.
Because Sylvia does not recognize her own faults, it would be expected that someone else might see them and correct her appropriately. The problem though, is that Sylvia’s parents are always "in a la-de-da apartment up the block having a good ole time," probably partying. Sylvia’s parents, mentioned infrequently throughout the story, do not seem to have too much involvement with their daughter. This is represented in Sylvia’s behavior, for example, when she wants to steal Ms. Moore’s cab money and run to the bar-b-que. Although most of Sylvia’s actions are conceivably wrong, it would be inappropriate to blame her solely for her mistakes. It is impossible for any child to understand what is right or wrong if it was never defined for him/her. Sylvia was probably not disciplines growing up and so her judgment of what is right or...