A short story is a specific type of literary writing which reveals the author’s message within a few pages. Thus, the story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara raises the issue of unfairness in society and the way children learn about it. The title reveals the main idea of the story, i.e., the lesson about injustice. The purpose of the story is to depict how children can be taught to understand something more than mere mathematics, how they can see some essential social phenomena.
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The story also shows how children perceive quite serious, so to speak, difficult experiences. “The Lesson” depicts a scene from a schoolgirl’s life, the girl and her classmates are taken to an expensive toy shop by their teacher who wants to show children the social injustice ruling in their country. So, schoolchildren see that some people can afford to buy toys which cost more than these children spend on food for a year. Thus, the purpose of the lesson reaches its aim.
To reveal the main ideas Bambara exploits very effective technique: narration. Such a composition pattern makes the story more evocative since it sounds more personal. The author uses the first person to depict the necessary events. The story is presented from the standpoint of the child: “Back in the days when … me and Sugar were the only ones just right” (Bambara 85). The story reveals the ideas that occur in this child’s head: “I’m really hating,” “I’m stalling to figure out” (Bambara 88-89).
The story is full of Sylvia’s, i.e., narrator’s, assessments: “boring-ass things” (i.e. things told by teacher), “goddamn college degree” (i.e. attitude towards higher education), “poor kid” (i.e. attitude towards a classmate), “magnificent thing” (evaluation of a toy). Of course, it is necessary to point out that the style of the story is quite colloquial. Moreover, there is a lot of slang: “bloody,” “goddamn,” “jerk,” “bitch,” “ass,” “draggy.”
Such style is not used by chance. It serves to address the audience of the story, i.e., young people who could read it and come to the necessary conclusions. Such kind of style makes “The Lesson” more emotional and evocative.
Young people reading the story can feel that these ideas depicted belong to themselves or their peers, friends. Sylvia’s (the narrator’s) thoughts occur in every child or teenager’s mind, for instance, it is a norm to dislike a teacher, so the narrator notes that they “kinda hated” their teacher (Bambara 85). Again, Bambara writes in the language school children (of suburbs) speak: “outta,” “Whatcha gonna do,” “Givin me one of them grins,” “ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin’”.
Of course, this kind of narration will be closer to the young reader. Admittedly, Bambara appeals to youth using plain and even colloquial English, so that her audience can get her message and reflect on this serious issue. Academic English will not serve the purpose of the story (to give the lesson to young people), so Bambara used the right technique and the right style.
It is quite easy to point out the main idea of the story since it is revealed perfectly clear. I got the message and saw the way children were taught to see some case of injustice. As for the story itself, I was impressed by the wise choice of the “teaching technique.” The teacher does not only speak about injustice: she told the children “how money ain’t divided up right in this country” (Bambara 89).
This shrewd woman makes children draw their conclusions. They see that injustice, they feel it in the toy shop: a girl concludes that “this is not much of a democracy if you ask me” (Bambara 95). I would also like to point out the writing style which, to my mind, is very remarkable. The author uses a child’s impression to reveal her ideas about injustice, and as they say, children feel everything better than adults do.
Thus, Toni Cade Bambara gives an outstanding lesson in her story “The Lesson” which raises the issues of injustice in the society. She manages to reveal this idea quite easily due to the choice of such techniques as narration composition pattern and specific writing style.
Bambara, Toni Cade. Gorilla, My Love. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.