Changes (The Lesson By Toni Cade Barrera)

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ChangesSome short stories are designed to teach lessons to the people who read them. They teach lessons about life, love, and growing up.

People can learn lessons by reading short stories that where the main characters discover something about life and about themselves. There Character and the way the use of actions, words, or thoughts carry throughout the story can relate to many realistic personas. In Toni Cade Bambara’s short story, The Lesson, the author presents a lesson to be learned.The narrator, Sylvia a young, self minded, lack of vocabulary, strong feminist African American from a poor neighborhood in New York is in for a great awakening, with her cousin Sugar always by her side their world was untouchable until a black woman named Miss Moore stepped in.

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They find her unusual because she is a black woman who has, “…proper speech.

..”(42). Miss Moore was educated and, “.

..been to college and said it was only right she should take responsibility for the young ones’ education” (42). Miss Moore is not the typical black woman in the neighborhood.

She is well educated and speaks well which can be found different in the neighborhood she lives in. Mrs. Moore climbed up against the odds in a time where it was almost unheard of for a black woman to go to college. She is a role model for the children who encourages them to get more out of life.

When Miss Moore takes the children to an upper class toy store in the city the children see a, “Handcrafted sailboat of fiberglass at one thousand one hundred ninety five dollars” (44). The children are not sure what to make of the high price but they do realize that for, “That much money it should last forever” (45). They understand that people who make more money can afford higher quality things, and that in order to make more money they have to get an education like Miss Moore.They have to strive the best in life.

At the end of the story Sylvia’s cousin, Sugar, realizes that even though they are not the wealthiest people in the world they, “…got four dollars anyway” (47).

This shows that they understand that even though you may not have everything you still have something. Sylvia thinks about this and agrees but adds that, “aint nobody gonna beat me at nuthin” (47). .Bambara wrote The Lesson to teach an actual lesson.

In the story Sylvia learns that people should be happy for what they have, but they also should be determined to get more. People need ambition to move up in the world but they should never be ashamed for what they do not have. What you do not have it was you can work towards. Making a change and breaking away from the environment in which they thought was all they had.

Mrs. Moore being a college grad with her proper grammar was not liked among the neighborhood; many questions float around to ask why she even went back in the first place. Boring kids with her knowledge of money and realization; not many listened or treated with Mrs. Moore respect, others were to young to even understand the vocabulary she brought upon, but some did but grew time to take in consideration.

“And then she gets to the part about we all poor and live in the slums”. Mrs. Moore pushed the discomfort to most of the non well educated kids around the neighborhood, but to only bring out the best in all of them. As she takes several kids into this day out in Fifth Avenue, this is where the inner and outer reality for the kids sets in.

Prior into coming to Fifth Avenue it’s like a cultural shock for many of these kids that have never known more then what they have seen in the slums. Before entering the toy store, the kids acted as kids would usually act, “Can we steal?” “This is mine, I gotta have that, that was made for me, I was born for that.”(Bambara 84). When seeing prices throughout the window the kids kept making comments about the prices and how “must be rich people shop here,” which conveys the feedback Mrs.

Moore was striving for, Though once entering the toy store changes occur. “We all walkin on tiptoe and hardly touchin the games and puzzles and things.” The kids were silent, If I was a kid again id go nuts in the toy store, but being who they had came from really opens up the eyes of the kids, and how the money spent on one toy can be so costly, a thing like a toy is what they want, but can’t have. The reaction of the kids while just lurking around the store goes back into the outer reality that couldn’t be able to afford any of the items, “Who are these people that spend that much for performing clowns and $1000 for toy sailboats?” The kids were speechless by the fact of it all being so realistic so wanting to have something so expensive and out of reach.

The Narrator, Sylvia, the strong go getter character of this story plays the big lesson within herself to accept the inner and outer reality. She strives herself to be the BEST, better than any other 12 yr olds wondering around the neighborhood. Having her cousin Sugar as her “sidekick” no one like Mrs. Moore took a toll in what she believed in.

What really can describe her character is by her un well use of language that the Author Bambara wanted to bring into the story. Her use of dialect representation in illustrates the use of alternative dialects in literature, functioning as an exploration of how those who listen hear the voice of the marginalized. Through the reclamation of the historically marginalized language of a long-marginalized people, Bambara assists in the struggle to reclaim the cultural identity of African Americans in Sylvia Character, a rebellion way of the right proper English.“ In “The Lesson,” the reintegration of non-standard linguistic aspects into the language functions as a profound reaction to this marginalization and as proof of language’s power and plasticity in describing the diverse realities of those living in all social spaces.

”(Wright, 2008). Being what she was raised to be as an African American the racial diversity appeared throughout her character, as independent as she was the type of language Silvia gave the audience conveyed her sense of originality, as if the way she learned how to speak was once again the right way for this New Yorker, in African American Vernacular English (AAVE). When talking about Bambara’s use of AAVE the story begins to tie into her own persona. “AAVE is also a dialect that Bambara herself would have learned growing up during the 1940s and 1950s in New York City’s Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant communities.

AAVE adds realism and humor to Sylvia’s narrative. The dialect also reflects Bambara’s pride in her ethnic heritage.”(Heller, 2008). This dialect emphasizes the children’s distance like Sylvia from mainstream white bourgeois culture and economic power.

However, Bambara also celebrates AAVE as a vehicle for conveying black experience: Sylvia uses AAVE to express her self-confidence, assertiveness, and creativity as a young black woman. An example of this would be “the simplicity of consonant clusters (apocope) in words like ole for old . Sylvia occasionally adds extra syllables to words to avoid consonant clusters such as pr, using “puredee” for pretty. At other times, she simply engages in syllable contraction, which is a feature of AAVE and of many vernacular American dialects.

”(Heller, 2008). As in well Toni Cade Bambara portrays the inner reality of the character Sylvia as the Narrator by showing the audience her thoughts and feelings which others in the story like Mrs. Moore were not aware of. Sylvia’s lack of change throughout the story brings out her round character as we know her language and personality throughout the story, but there is a non-existent change till the end in which is when we see an inner slight reality change of Sylvia as known as a dynamic character.

What lesson is Bambara through Miss Moore, trying to teach these young children, and inevitably the reader? Miss Moore tries to get the kids to learn not only by asking questions, but figuring out the world on their own. Sylvia asks, “what I want to know is,…is how much a real boat costs? I figure a thousand’d get you a yacht and day, and Miss Moore responds by saying, “Why don’t you check that out,and report back to the group” (Bambara 85). Miss Moore is showing the kids another side of the world that they are not use to seeing. She does not just show them the other side of the world she wants them to find out about it, want it, and strive for it.

She wants them to know that they deserve this side of the world if they work hard for it and try hard to obtain it. She is also trying to get the kids to recognize their potential.This comes with figuring out their identity and what type of person they are, and just because they are put at a disadvantage does not mean they have to stay at a disadvantage, but it is up to them to lift themselves out of the place they are in and with hard work, work their way to the top or whatever they want to pursue. A critic Martha M.

Veatrice states that, “Miss Moore wants to radicalize the young, explaining the nature of poverty by taking her charges from their slums to visit Fifth Avenue stores, providing cutting-edge experience for the children, making them question their acceptance of their lot.” (Veatrice 155-71). There are stages of learning that Sylvia goes through. At first she seems as stubborn as a mule and towards the end she separates herself from the group and grows as a person and individual.

Martha Veatrice talks about how the characters in Bambara’s story go through stages of learning. She lists five stages, which are beginner, apprentice, journeyman, artisan, and expert. Sylvia grows profusely in just one day. She is a beginner in Veatrice’s five levels in the beginning of the day and a journeyman towards the end of the day.

Sylvia still has much more growing and learning to experience at her young age, and Miss Moore knows what she is capable of no matter how stubborn Sylvia seems. Sylvia after stepping on Sugars foot for her insubordination says, “She shuts up, and Miss Moore looks at me, sorrowfully I’m thinking. And something weird is goin on, I can feel it in my chest”. “Anybody else learn anything today? Looking dead at me.

” (Bambara 87) Miss Moore knows what Sylvia is capable of, and also knows that she is very intelligent and can learn a lesson through this experience. In The Lesson there is growth within the person and also growth in the characters identity. Sylvia is just a journeyman so she is still trying to figure out her identity and what type of person she is, but within her identity and qualities she seems to figure out that she is a very strong individual whose persistence and indomitable spirit will get her to where ever she wants to go, “ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin” (Bambara 87).Having taken the time to thoroughly examine Toni Cade Bambara’s story “The Lesson”, I have learned a lesson myself.

Much like Sylvia is taught by Miss Moore, I am taught by this story that you have to put yourself in unfamiliar territory. When you have experienced something new, take the time to reflect on the situation and think it through. Ask questions about your new experience and don’t be afraid or too proud to learn what the answers to your questions are. The Author uses Mrs.

Moore to challenge us the readers into being more then what meets the eye as she symbolizes Sylvia as one like us. Unlike my initial reading of the story, I can now say that I sympathize with Sylvia when she states “I got a headache for thinkin so hard.”

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Changes (The Lesson By Toni Cade Barrera). (2017, Apr 07). Retrieved from

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