Toni Cade Bambara, a well known author and social activist, uses language and experience to incite change in a warped society that marginalizes its people based on language, race, and class. With the utilization of African American English (AAE), Bambara sheds light on some questionable prejudices and problems with capitalism in American society. Bambara’s works are noted for their use of traditional AAE and its support in teaching the overall “lesson” and the underlying message to the public. The majority of Bambara’s works were inspired by and written in response to her experiences of growing up a black woman, of lower class status, in Harlem. Her short story, “The Lesson,” is no exception. Bambara uses first person narrative, omission of tense markers, and African American English to prove her point that even with education, wealth and prosperity are unevenly distributed throughout the United States.
Bambara’s short story, “The Lesson,” published in 1972 in her collection of short stories, Gorilla, My Love, was definitely a product of cultural and social issues of the time. Sparked by prejudices of race, class, and society, many of Bambara’s works deliberately incorporate colloquial language as a way to educate the reader of the issues poor, uneducated African Americans living in urban areas of the United States have to deal with on a daily basis. While “The Lesson” focuses more on the unequal distribution of wealth in the United States, her stories are generally focused more broadly on the lives and injustices facing African Americans. Bambara’s stories tend to feature adolescent, black children, from underprivileged and uneducated backgrounds. In this compilation of short stories, the narration is generally in first person, by a young character between the ages of 10 and 12. Bambara uses this technique as a way to intertwine the thoughts of the reader with the thoughts of the narrator.
Bambara’s work has been praised for its outstanding ability to capture the innocence of an adolescent voice; this is obviously done through the lighthearted and engaging black dialect of youth. Suggested reasoning for this innocent, but strong voice is to help the reader come to similar realizations with the narrator or main characters; the language is obviously evidence of the characters’ race, class, education, and geographical whereabouts. Bambara wants the general public to be able to see life through the eyes of these innocent, yet insightful youths. Her style of narration is arguably one of the most distinctive aspects of her writing. In “The Lesson,” Bambara’s main character is an energetic, sarcastic, bossy, and strong little girl; through the language Sylvia uses throughout the story, the reader gets to see her grow and mature in her ideas about society and her place in it.
The first few sentences of the story are quite revealing; the reader clearly sees two things. One characteristic being that the event he or she is about to read...