The theme of poverty is one of the most common topics of short stories written by African American authors, and Toni Cade Bambara, with her piece “The Lesson,” is no exception to the rule. In this work, she reflects on the perception of a less privileged position in society by children. Their perspective is efficiently transmitted through the contrast between their homes and the toy store where they cannot afford to buy anything (“The Lesson Toni Cade Bambara Audiobook”). Moreover, the progression shows the development of their consciousness under the influence of their teacher. In “The Lesson,” the setting is used to reflect the characters and their development, while the point of view of the narrator is significant for understanding the first-hand experience.
First, the careful selection of locations in the story contributes to a better understanding of the message by readers. In this way, Bambara demonstrates the difference between people’s position in society and the consequences of limitations for minorities. For example, the narrator, a boy living in slums, shows a lack of compassion for their teacher, Miss Moore. Furthermore, he fears changing his opinion when visiting the toy store (“The Lesson Toni Cade Bambara Audiobook”). In this case, the setting and its change are critical. In the beginning, his attitude is purely negative and manifested in his disdain for knowledge. However, when he encounters the world he does not know, he struggles to accept it. The contrast between these places is intended to reflect living standards. They are conditional upon the gap in incomes of people (Zachary and Struffolino 375). Thus, the setting serves as a background for the story.
The Point of View
Second, the point of view selected by the author is essential for grasping the meaning of children’s unawareness of their conditions. It is seen when the characters prefer not to enter the toy store (“The Lesson Toni Cade Bambara Audiobook”). This occasion is an analogy to their unwillingness to learn that one can live differently. The desire to leave the situation unchanged is stronger than possible improvements. In turn, the intention to learn and gain more benefits in life is accompanied by greater struggles. Therefore, they tend to avoid the emerging opportunity to obtain knowledge. As a result, the perspective of the boy is critical for the narrative. It shows that an outsider cannot fully understand their lives. Even though he sometimes feels like sharing his opinion, he stops himself.
The Character Development
Third, the character development is clear when applied to the selected setting. In the beginning, the boys and girls do not want to listen to their teacher (“The Lesson Toni Cade Bambara Audiobook”). They believe that they know better what is best for them. The arguments presented by Miss Moore do not affect their perceptions. Nevertheless, when the teacher decides to go to the toy store with her students, the situation changes. The children experience emotions, that they never faced before the visit. They are related to the fact that their families cannot afford to buy goods in such places (Zachary and Struffolino 376). As a result, Sugar, one of the girls, tells Miss Moore that she realized the failure of democracy in the country (“The Lesson Toni Cade Bambara Audiobook”). In this way, she is the one who learned the lesson and is unlikely to accept her life as it is in the future.
To summarize, the combination of the setting and the point of view affected the main characters’ development in different ways. It showed that most people tend not to think about societal problems and their role in solving them. Meanwhile, there are individuals similar to Sugar who start to reflect on how to improve their lives. At first, the perspective can be as negative as one of the girls. However, in the end, the pessimistic thoughts trigger positive action.
“The Lesson Toni Cade Bambara Audiobook.” YouTube. 2020. Web.
Van Winkle, Zachary, and Emanuela Struffolino. “When Working isn’t Enough: Family Demographic Processes and In-Work Poverty Across the Life Course in the United States.” Demographic Research, vol. 39, 2018, pp. 365-380. JSTOR. Web.