Written in first person narration and colloquial English style of language, The Lesson by Tony Bambara revolves around the lives of two girls and their friends who originate from the slums and are living life carelessly. The narrator and her friend Sugar are against all mannerisms that may portray them as educated and do not value anything that exceeds their lifestyle in the slum. It is until Ms Moore and educated young girl takes it upon themselves to educate them on acting like people who have been in school that the dialogue in the story unfolds. Mrs. Moore to them is different as she speaks English correctly and is of the view that the black community should live and talk like the whites. The irony though is that she doubts if they can afford the type of lifestyle the white man adopts and this will be the basis of our argument when it comes to analyses whether the author of The Lesson gives us and end that is optimistic in the text.
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Miss Moore’s history and how it affects sugar and the narrator.
According to Snodgrass Miss more does not allow the children to live or learn by trial and error (47). She is the “black-as-night tribal instructor and knowledgeable adult” (Snodgrass 47). This is the manner with which she is portrayed in the story. At first the narrator and her friend wonder why this woman who is not a relative would have that much vigor in giving education to small children in the slums who are not even her relatives. The narrator’s auntie and her parents admired Miss Moore. However, though they gossiped about the fact that she did not go to church, they would be happy when she took the kids off their hands. It is from this perspective that the irony of Miss Moore’s character will be portrayed as it is in the text. It is also from this that we will get to find out whether the ending is optimistic. Did the author intend Miss Moore’s agenda to be fulfilled in educating these children? Does the end of the story portray and optimistic outcome towards this end? The main thing that irks the narrator is Miss Moore’s language and mannerisms which seems weird to her. She describes her image as a lady with nappy hair and good language not leaving out the part that she wore no make up which makes her seem very strange to this little girl. We may say that this dislike of Miss Moore is what makes the narrator set out to prove Miss Moore’s views wrong toward the end of the book. With this in mind we will set out to see how the narrator drives the plot to an end that is not optimistic insofar as Miss Moore’s agenda to educate the narrator, Sugar and the other friends.
Miss Moore’s agenda to educate the children
Miss Moore irks the narrator by portraying the ignorance of her friends as well as herself on the living conditions in the slums. Miss Moore takes the young friend on an educational field trip to portray to them how much more expensive it is to buy things in the shops uptown as opposed to the prices they have in the slums. Bambara and Traylor are of the view that there was an age; the invisible age in which blacks accepted the manner in which they lived (297). This may be the perspective from which the author of The Lesson is coming from. It is actually this that the author may wish to bring out toward the end of the short story. The narrator is said to have been given five dollar to pay the taxi in an attempt to improve her mathematics. Miss Moore wants her to calculate what the percentage of the amount to give as a tip the taxi driver. However, all the narrator is interested in is the chocolate they will buy with her friend Sugar once they get away from Miss Moore. It is imperative here to note that it is the accepted arrogance that is been shown by the narrator on the part of the poor who live in the slums. Miss Moore is the voice of reason. She takes them to shops that have educational material but all they check to see is the price of the educational material rather than the value it will have to their future. However, the author here also seems to want us to see the futility of trying to get an education if you are black, poor and live in the slums. The microscope, paper weight and other educational items are of no value to them. When they get to the hand crafted sailboat, they are all interested though it may be of no educational value. Apparently the only thing that gets the narrator’s attention is a somersaulting clown that costs thirty five dollars.
It is Rosie Giraffe’s question that brings about the irony in all these depictions give the irony to the ending of this story. This is what portrays that the story does not end in a positive or optimistic ending. Optimistic here portrays the need for the poor who live in the slum using education to get them out of this situation. It is imperative to note that despite the fact that Miss Moore tries to give some education to these children, their backgrounds have made them accept their fate. Rosie asks why somebody would spend 1000 dollars on as hand-crafted sailboat when they would use it for so many days in the slums. They are aloof of the fact that they can improve and have been forced to think like their parents. It is this ironic twist that the author uses towards the end of the story to portray the poor people living in the slum and the mentality they live by.
In conclusion it is clear that the end of the story is not optimistic. Though it does have some bit of enlightenment on the part of the children who make away with Miss Moore’s money, this goes further to show that they are still arrogant on how much education can do to improve their life and get them out of the slums. They still do not get why Miss Moore is educating them and showing them a lifestyle that they cannot afford to live.
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