September 27, 2018
Thank you, Miss Moore
Toni Cade Bambara was born in 1939 in Harlem, New York. Bambara was a writer, teacher, filmmaker and an activist in the civil and women’s rights movement that helped to build the culture of the 1970’s. Bambara was an author whose main work was to focus on issues of racial awareness and feminism (“The Lesson”, 2001). In Toni Cade Bambara’s story, “The Lesson” (1972), Bambara, tells the story of a young girl named Sylvia and her friends living in poverty in New York around the 1970’s. Miss Moore organized a trip for the unappreciative children to FAO Schwartz toy store, where the toys were extremely expensive. Her main aim was to basically demonstrate the kids about social inequality. Children avoid opening themselves. At the end Miss Moore and Sylvia choose different paths. Miss Moore, like Bambara is an educated black woman who takes an interest in neighborhood children because she feels an obligation to teach kids about the reality of the world around them. Bambara uses Miss Moore and her characteristics to teach Sylvia and the kids about social inequality and the idea of chasing personal ambition regardless of one’s status.
Education plays a vital role in Bambara’s life. Education was much as a part of Bambara’s career as her writing. She earned a master’s degree in American literature at City College of New York and completed additional studies in linguistics at New York University (“Bambara, Toni Cade”, 2011). In today’s life it would be difficult to imagine an entire community that lacks an education. In the story, “The Lesson” Miss Moore was the only educated black woman in Sylvia’s neighborhood. Miss Moore has no first name but is always addressed by her title Miss Moore. She is unlike the other African Americans in the neighborhood. She has a nappy hair. She has a proper speech and wears no makeup. She wants to teach the neighborhood kids about the reality of the world. Sylvia hates Miss Moore. According to Sylvia, Miss Moore was “black as hell, cept for her feet, which were fish-white and spooky” (64). In addition to that, Sylvia hates the fact that she is educated “really hating this nappy-head bitch and her goddamn college degree” (64). Sylvia and her cousin, Sugar, were being forced to meet with Miss Moore by their parents. Their parents think that Miss Moore should take the responsibility for the young ones. Parents believe that is important for kids, but at times they fail to meet some of their own obligations for the kids. Sometimes parents are displeased toward the role models like Miss Moore in their own community for no such reason.
Bambara was very involved with social programs during her educational years. According to cuny.edu, Bambara was involved in a program called SEEK “Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge”, where she educates underprivileged kids. In the story, Miss Moore, like Bambara, takes an interest to educate neighborhood kids, who come from background that may not help their own situations in life.
Miss Moore decides to take kids at FAO Schwartz toy store for one of her lessons that day. Miss Moore starts off by asking kids about what they know about money. She talks about how much things cost and what parents earn. As usual, this made Sylvia angry: “And Miss Moore asking us do we know about money is, like we bunch of retards” (64).
The kids check out on Fifth Avenue. They had their first impression towards white folk. The first impression is that white folk are different from them as Sylvia says, “… Everybody dressed up in stockings. One lady in a fur coat, hot as it is. White folks crazy” (65).
Before the group enters FAO Schwartz, children look at the store window and starts gazing at toys. Miss Moore asked them what the toys cost. While looking at the toys, they talk about what they see. They were amazed by seeing the cost of sailboat, which costs $1915. Even Sylvia is shock. Sylvia wonders what a real boat costs, but Miss Moore says, “Why don’t you check out and report back to the group” (67).
Being exposed to the situations, which are unfamiliar and unpredictable, can be a remarkable learning lesson for the young ones. While entering the toy store, Sylvia hangs back. She was wondering why she is holding back. For the first time Sylvia sets back and begins to learn a
lesson. Miss Moore escorts the kids from toy store. She urges kids to think about their society in which “some people can spend on a toy what it could cost to feed a family of six or seven” (69). Sylvia thinks “something weird is going on, I can feel in my chest” (69). That feeling of weirdness is finally understanding about social inequality. However, it does not stop the kids from accomplishing more. Without Miss Moore’s teachings kids might have remained ignorant to these facts. Miss Moore’s lesson to the children proves to be a significant and valuable resource the kids obtain.
In the story Bambara uses Miss Moore’s dynamic and consistent personality to teach the kids about social inequality. Bambara always wanted the development of black community and Miss Moore was giving something to the community, which was by teaching a lesson and by exposing them to wider culture. Bambara uses the experiences of her own education and role model type personality to create a character like Miss Moore.
Bambara, Toni Cade. “The Lesson”. The story and its writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Edited by Ann Charters, 9th ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2015. pp. 64-69
“Bambara, Toni Cade.” Critical Survey of American Literature, edited by Steven G. Kellman, 3rd ed., vol. 1, Salem Press/Grey House, 2016, pp. 170-175. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX7301200031/GVRL?u=txshracd2487&sid=GVRL&xid=d45c2f4e. Accessed 26 Sept. 2018.
City of New York University (CUNY) SEEK and college university, CUNY, 2018, www2.cuny.edu/academic-programs/seek-college-discovery/. Accessed 26 Sept.2018.
“The Lesson.” Short Stories for Students, edited by Jennifer Smith, vol. 12, Gale, 2001, pp. 171-187. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2695900021/GVRL?u=txshracd2487&sid=GVRL&xid=ed185444. Accessed 26 Sept. 2018.