The Short Story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara

Paper Info
Page count 9
Word count 2487
Read time 9 min
Topic Literature
Type Research Paper
Language 🇺🇸 US


Social inequality remains a problematic issue in many communities across the globe. The use of literary works can guide readers to understand how economic injustices affect the lives. Experts in the fields of sociology and entrepreneurship have examined this challenge from diverse perspectives. Concepts of upward mobility and social integration have emerged as evidence-based responses to inequality. The short story, “The Lesson” is an inspirational work that guides the reader to learn more about the issues affecting the American society. Toni Cade Bambara uses an effective literary approach to educate the targeted audience and make it easier for them to implement proper solutions. Bambara’s short story describes social inequalities and economic imbalances as fundamental challenges facing underserved communities and proposes upward social mobility as the most appropriate solution.

Short Story Summary

In the selected story, the reader is introduced to the experience of an African American girl by the name Sylvia. She is a resident of Harlem, a marginalized community characterized by a wide range of societal challenges. As the narrator, Sylvia describes her experiences during a period when the people were stupid. Miss Moore organizes a trip with the aim of allowing more children to learn more about the outside world. She is seen as a successful and well-educated person in the society. The story narrates how the targeted children visit FAO Schwarz Toy Store (Bambara 309). From this facility, it becomes clear to Sylvia and her colleagues that the toys on display are expensive and unavoidable. It is evident that the target market for such products includes children of white citizens.

The emerging information from the story is that some of these displays toys are costly than the amount some of the African American households need for upkeep annually. The reader, though the eyes of these young individuals, acknowledges that the country is associated with an unfair economic model or system (Bloome 1057). The social structures appear to have affected a wide range of issues for the African Americans, such as the ability to get quality education and better job opportunities. The absence of appropriate primary needs is also evident from the story. For instance, Bambara writes: “And I don’t even have a home” (435). Flyboy presents such a statement to reveal how most of the people in African American neighborhoods lead pathetic or low-quality lives.

The story is developed in such a way that the children could benefit from access to education. Moore’s intention is to support them and make it easier for them to learn more about societal injustices. Unfortunately, most of these individuals are not interested in the emerging issues or intentions. Instead, the focus on the best ways to squander the remaining cab fare (Bambara 438). Towards the end, the reader is introduced to Sylvia who is contemplating the outcomes of the trip. The work also appears to empower and encourage African Americans to stop being condescended to the fortunate outsiders.

Depiction of Economic and Social Inequalities in “The Lesson”

The actions Miss Moore undertakes are intended to attack most of the predicaments existing in Sylvia society. The move to take these children on a trip is an effective strategy that can guide the beneficiaries to start having an informed understanding of social inequalities. Through this outlook, the young individuals are in a position to consider evidence-based approaches to start addressing this problem. From the beginning, Miss Moore presence in the work appears to portray the possibility of the notion that more people could achieve a higher society in society (Bloome 1072). She is trying to rely on this understanding to guide these students and encourage them to pursue greater possibilities.

The trip itself becomes a powerful opportunity to highlight the presence of income disparity in the wider American society. The short story itself is a rare opportunity for Sylvia and her classmates to realize that there is a unique form of unfairness. Moore wants them to start appreciating the issue and become upset about it because it has the potential to affect their future experiences (Bambara 401). Without an action plan, chances are high that a cycle of poverty could continue to exist and affect their eventual outcomes.

The shocking prices of toys in the stores the individuals visit appear to present a unique form of reality. In this society, African Americans appear to have been pushed to occupy a marginalized neighborhood. It is evident that members of this community encounter numerous challenges, such as the inability to earn competitive salaries and opportunities (Heiserman and Simpson 245). The fact that most of the people do not have access to quality education remains a disturbing issue in the country. Citizens belonging to marginalized groups are unable to pursue their social and economic goals (Wolff and Zacharias 1398). The prices of toys appear to be more expensive in comparison with what most of the African American households spend annually.

The wider settling of the story tries to expose most of the challenges and predicaments many people in the marginalized society have to go through in their lives. The children appear to be interested in spending the remaining cab fare instead of contemplating about the issues they discover after the trip. This kind of portrayal tries to inform the reader that most of these individuals are not concerned about the importance of a better future (Munger and Seron 342). This realty tries to paint a picture of the issues African Americans continue to associate with. The status appears to remain and continue disorienting the overall experiences of more people in the wider American community.

After experiencing the outside world, Sylvia is able to realize that money in the country is not subdivided equality to meet the demands of all the people (Bambara 308). The reader would also realize that the individuals identify poverty is a leading challenge affecting the overall experiences of African Americans and other marginalized groups. The existing social functions are designed in such a way that they make it impossible for the oppressed to pursue their goals. The nature of the learning process appear to sideline or incapable of empowering the affected children to pursue their goals. The outcome is that a cycle of poverty has remained a problematic issue affecting the country.

Most of the toys the children get an opportunity to investigate at FAO Schwarz is a clear indication that the American society is facing the challenge of wealth inequality. This problematic issue only allows whites and the affluent members of the society to have better experiences. On the other hand, individuals from marginalized groups cannot spend a similar amount for basic needs, including shelter and food (Bambara 312). The absence of such items makes it impossible for their parents to provide the relevant education and support. The emerging insights make it easier for the individuals to get a broader view of the history of inequality in the American society.

The portrayal of Harlem, the neighborhood whereby these children come from, resonates with the theme of poverty. Individuals from this region are poor and lack the relevant resources to lead better lives. Sylvia and her fellow classmates are presented as people who are unaware of the realities in the affluent white neighbors. People in such communities lack numerous resources that could take them closer to their social and economic goals (Munger and Seron 342). On the other hand, the author presents Manhattan as a wealthy neighborhood with a majority white population. The citizens in this area are rich and appear to have realized their own versions of the American dream. Sylvia is able to describe how the intended lesson is acquired at the very end. The individuals in such a society are able to afford even the most expensive items.

The reader will be able to appreciate the nature of consumer society and how it appears to meet the needs of the whites only. African Americans still remain poor despite the fact that the country has experienced improved economic performance. This challenge could be studied from the lens of discrimination, a divisive issue that has affected all functions and social systems intended to take more people closer to their objectives. Sylvia’s final reflection becomes a learning point whereby the students appear to acknowledge the reality (Mallman 18). They eventually observe the nature of inequality and how it seems to seal their fate. Consequently, Moore tries to encourage them to become more worried about such predicaments and consider the best approaches to promote upward social mobility in the country.

Upward Social Mobility as the Best Solution

The studied short story presents several themes that disclose the threats and experiences more African Americans and other marginalized groups go through in the United States. The choice of New York tries to give a clear impression of wider country and how economic imbalances and injustices remain systemic problems. Miss Moore emerges as a strong woman who has succeeded to receive college education. She has decided to remain part of the less fortunate with the aim of guiding them to achieve their maximum potential (Munger and Seron 341). She chooses an English name to portray a sense of transformation that remains possible for African Americans despite the social inequalities affecting them.

Towards the end of the story, the reader learns about the name of the narrator. The use of such an English name appears to present a strong message. Specifically, the author tries to indicate that those who succeed to learn more about the challenges existing in their communities could focus on a paradigm shift. The presence of numerous problems could become the best strategy to set a new beginning (Mallman 19). The country does not divide resources in a fair manner. Consequently, a new approach would be necessarily in order to address these predicaments and take more people closer to their social and economic goals.

Sylvia succeeds to find meaning in the presented lesson. As part of her social identity, she has come to realize that there is a unique form of disparity in the American community. Sylvia appear to has become more enlightened. She is aware of the disparities and appears to be ready to start a new cause that can deliver meaningful transformations. The story is also a wakeup call for those who appreciate the nature of these injustices. Those who decide to fight for themselves will find a new sense of meaning in the current society (Mallman 22). It is agreeable that the lessons are understandable to those who want to change their fate.

Based on these challenges affecting different neighborhoods in the country, some scholars have presented a number of insights to help more marginalized groups pursue their goals. For example, Bambara encourages more people to begin appreciating the nature of societal inequality (430). Miss Moore is keen to organize a tour for the targeted children so that they can appreciate the reality in the wider American society. The government has done very little to address these gaps in economic and educational attainment. Citizens belonging to marginalized communities will have to focus on efforts that could allow them to acquire additional education. They should also enroll for programs that will equip them with additional skills. These gains will empower them to engage in productive activities.

The example of Miss Moore reveals that education is a strong societal function capable of guiding more people to record upward social mobility. Those who pursue additional courses or opportunities will find it easier to find competitive jobs. They will also have a greater say in decision-making processes and eventually increase their annual income levels. The available of disposable income creates opportunities for people to address the problems of poverty. These beneficiaries would eventually occupy higher or better social classes (Wolff and Zacharias 1398). They will find it easier to provide adequate support to their children and address most of the predicaments associated with poverty. Some of them include increased cases of crime, lack of opportunities, and inability to access health services.

Miss Moore is the main character who appears to present this kind of notion. She has succeeded in numerous areas while deciding to remain in Harlem. She engages in activities and decisions that are similar to those of the rich. Her portrayal in this story becomes an opportunity for the presented children to acknowledge that social mobility is possible in the American society. However, she tries to encourage them to stay focused and understand that most of the existing injustices and prejudices cannot go away without proper mechanisms (Mallman 23). The wide society could come together to pursue goals that are supportive of their goals. As Sylvia observes, failure to consider these issues would make it impossible for more African Americans to address the challenge of poverty.

The concept of upward social mobility presents a powerful force for mitigating the themes evident in the studied short story. Individuals need to begin by appreciating the reality affecting New York and the wider American society. This knowledge will compel African Americans and other people in lower social classes to engage in activities that can support their goals. They would become more resolute, find better jobs, and consider the power of increased access to education (Heiserman and Simpson 249). They will also focus on the idea of entrepreneurship since it has the potential to increase their income levels. These efforts would set the right stage or foundation for tackling poverty and the inequalities associated with it.

The involvement of political and policymaking processes could create additional opportunities for pursuing upward social mobility. Individuals can also consider personal efforts since they are practical and capable of triggering a paradigm shift. Those who engage in numerous actions will become more involved and walling to pursue their goals. A collaborative approach could also support most of the members to deal with social injustices and inequalities (Wolff and Zacharias 1403). These actions can compel the government to become more involved and implement proper policies. The involved agencies can also introduce supportive mechanisms and social programs that can take more African Americans and marginalized groups closer to their goals. These messages are evident in the studied short story by Toni Cade Bambara. Such gains will change the society for the better and allows underserved populations to lead high-quality lives.


The selected short story is inspirational, informative, and capable of guiding more people to appreciate the challenges underserved populations encounter in the United States. The government has failed to implement sustainable programs and mechanisms to help African Americans overcome poverty and social exclusion. Through the lives of Miss More and Sylvia, the reader realizes that a unique disparity in income levels and social development exists in the country. This predicament makes it impossible for the affected individuals to lead high-quality lives. Due to the nature of these issues, the studied story encourages more citizens to embrace the idea of upward social mobility and eventually improve their overall experiences.

Works Cited

Bambara, Toni C. “The Lesson.” In Gorilla, My Love. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2011.

Bloome, Deirdre. “Income Inequality and Intergenerational Income Mobility in the United States.” Social Forces, vol. 93, no. 3, 2015, pp. 1047-1080.

Heiserman, Nicholas, and Brent Simpson. “Higher Inequality Increases the Gap in the Perceived Merit of the Rich and Poor.” Social Psychology Quarterly, vol. 80, no. 3, 2017, pp. 243-253.

Mallman, Mark. “Not Entirely at Home: Upward Social Mobility and Early Family Life.” Journal of Sociology, vol. 53, no. 1, 2017, pp. 18-31.

Munger, Frank W., and Carroll Seron. “Race, Law, and Inequality, 50 Years after the Civil Rights Era.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science, vol. 13, no. 1, 2017, pp. 331-350.

Wolff, Edaward N., and Ajit Zacharias. “Class Structure and Economic Inequality.” Cambridge Journal of Economies, vol. 37, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1381-1406.

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NerdyBro. (2023, March 31). The Short Story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara. Retrieved from


NerdyBro. (2023, March 31). The Short Story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara.

Work Cited

"The Short Story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara." NerdyBro, 31 Mar. 2023,


NerdyBro. (2023) 'The Short Story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara'. 31 March.


NerdyBro. 2023. "The Short Story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara." March 31, 2023.

1. NerdyBro. "The Short Story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara." March 31, 2023.


NerdyBro. "The Short Story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara." March 31, 2023.


NerdyBro. 2023. "The Short Story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara." March 31, 2023.

1. NerdyBro. "The Short Story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara." March 31, 2023.


NerdyBro. "The Short Story “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara." March 31, 2023.