“The Lesson” From The Mentor Whenever there is a civil rights movement going on, there are always 3 parties involved. One the Oppressor, second the Oppressed and lastly the Activist or the Mentor. The Activists usually always emerges from the Oppressed. That is when the Oppressed intellectuals feel that it’s time to standup to defend the identity of their people and make them strong enough to make a name of their own. This is what happened during the early 20th century within the African American community. They were racially termed as Negros meaning blacks.
And were separated from the mainstream white American society with the Powerful class denying their rights for equal opportunities in basically every field of life. This paved way for the Black Arts movement. When the discrimination of the blacks reached its peak with the assassination of Malcolm X- the great influential African American leader, LeRoi Jones thought that it was time that African Americans bring about their true talent collectively. It all started in Harlem. Spanning the 1920s to the mid-1930s, the Harlem Renaissance was a literary, artistic, and intellectual movement that kindled a new black cultural identity.
Critic and teacher Alain Locke summed up its essence in 1926 when he declared that through art, “Negro life is seizing its first chances for group expression and self determination. ” (Foner, Garraty). The Harlem Renaissance as it was called, influenced future generations of black writers. And Toni Cade Bambara was one of them. The historical information mentioned above was necessary because it is important to know what period of time a writer lived in, it helps us to understand what influenced the writer to write and thus make us understand the stories better as the writer writes what he or she sees and feels.
Toni Cade Bambara grew up in Harlem, so the essence of the Harlem renaissance was in her blood. Following her predecessors, she wanted to give the African American community the bases to stand up for their own selves. And this is what “The Lesson” is all about. In this short story, Bambara uses her personal life experiences and her work in the field of social justice to describe the injustices done towards the African American society and how education and mentoring can play an important role in the uplift of the African American community and in general the society as a whole.
In “The Lesson”, Toni Cade Bambara tells us about the economic and socio-political situation of the African American community through the eyes of Sylvia along with the hope of an uplift through good people like Ms. Moore. Sylvia, being the first person narrator, portrays the role of a strong willed young Black American girl. She along with her group of friends belongs to a small isolated town of blacks, in Harlem. The way she is seen talking to her friends shows that no proper education and guidance was being provided to them and that they were being deprived economically too. “Can we steal? Sugar asks very serious like she’s getting the ground rules squared away before she plays. “ (Bambara 27) This line from “The Lesson” clearly confirms the above point. Basically, the whole story revolves around the time when Ms. Moore takes out this group of friends for an educational ride. Her character, I think is the exact portrayal of Toni Cade Bambara. Ms. Moore like Toni Cade Bambara belonged to Harlem and was an activist for African Americans’ rights. She like her, made her mission to raise awareness amongst the African Americans, to make them realize their rights and to make them learn to live in the real world.
Ms. Moore, seemingly the only educated person in the ghetto town of Harlem to which the kids belonged, wanted to help out and educate the kids. And give them an understanding of how the world sees them and how they should create a good life on their own. For instance when she asked them to pay to the taxi cab driver along with a 10% tip, this shows that she wanted them to learn to calculate. And by firing away questions and trying to make them share their views about the happenings in the toy store on the high profile FIFTH AVE. hich was for the upper white class (where she took them to show the disparity and learn), she wanted them to realize that injustice is done towards them and they should learn to live to live on their own and earn respect. Not all is gone in vain (referring to Sylvia’s and other kids’ cold responses) and Ms Moore is delighted by Sugar’s response. “You know, Miss Moore, I don’t think all of us here put together eat in a year what that sailboat costs. ” And Miss Moore lights up like somebody goosed her. “And? ” she say, urging Sugar on. Imagine for a minute what kind of society it is in which some people can spend on a toy what it would cost to feed a family of six or seven. What do you think? ” (Bambara 99). Giving us the idea that intelligence and awareness exists everywhere, it just needs to be awakened just like Ms. Moore did. Introduction of the side characters shows us that Bambara tries her best to tell the readers that the children of the African American community are as normal as they are. Just like normal white kids, they have their own personalities, they fight, they have insecurities etc. nd like other normal white kids, they can do wonders with a little guidance. With the parents of the children willing to send them with Ms. Moore, Bambara tries to portray that even while living in tough conditions, African American parents want their kids to lead a good life, unlike their own. All this and the conversational style of the story reflect Bambara’s connection with the Harlem world. With even Sylvia’s strong character showing signs of weakness, when she wasn’t able to stand the bitter truth by her sidekick Sugar, makes us wonderfully realize that Toni Cade Bambara has summed up the entire life of the oppressed in general.
That no matter how strong headed or violent they seem, there is always this timid person behind the mask to hide the real face, i. e. the insecurities and also that intelligent minds exist everywhere, they just need to be mentored. Just what Ms. Moore was trying to do and Sugar was living up to Ms. Moore’s expectations. Overall the story deals with the reality of racial and class injustice, yet there is a sense of hope in the conclusion of the story. As the narrator Sylvia (even though realizes and understands what Ms.
Moore was trying to make the kids learn but being strong headed was unwilling to accept the fact) is determined to rise above her circumstances and create a better life for herself. “She can run if she want to and even run faster. But ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin. “(Bambara 109) The above thought also strengthens the sharp contrast between Sylvia and Sugar that even though Sugar comprehends Ms. Moore’s lesson first, she forgets it as soon as they are done with the trip, by starting to think of things they could do with the change money Ms.
Moore allowed them to keep while Sylvia who didn’t understand the lesson at first is now determined to deal with the situation. Though we don’t know for sure how Sylvia would end up but her words show that with a determined and sharp mind, she is all geared up to change the way she as a part of community is perceived. This is how Toni Cade Bambara sums up her life long mission through the heart and soul of Sylvia. Which is, that the oppressed (in general, not only the African American community) should always be aware of the injustices done towards them and never should give up with understanding the fact that awareness and education are the eys to success. Work Cited Bambara,Toni Cade. “The Lesson. ” Gorilla,My Love. New York. Random (1972. ) Print. 4th October. 2012 Tate, Claudia, ed. Black Women Writers at Work. New York. Continuum (1983. ) Web. 4th October. 2012 Garraty, Foner, Editors. The Reader’s Companion to American History: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company (1991. ) Web. 4th October. 2012 Gale Research Group. “Toni Cade Bambara. ” Discovering Authors. 1999. Griffin, Farah Jasmine. “Para Las Chicas Cubanas. ” Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters 26. 1 (2003): 74-82. Web. 4th October. 2012