The story, The Lesson, occurs in one ordinary Harlem day when a group of neighbourhood children, led by Sylvia, are taken for an educational outing by Miss Moore. Sylvia is the narrator in the story, and in which Miss Moore is revealed as the only educated black woman in the society who had decided to educate the children, something that Sylvia did not like as she considered Miss Moore as the pathetic black woman sent to destroy her comfort. As the story unfolds, however, Sylvia tells a painful story of the day which hit her head hard and got her thinking.
The narrator, Sylvia, is a girl filled with pride and arrogance while at the same time bright, witty, and vulnerable. As the story starts, it is easy to realise that Sylvia comes from a poor community, but she doesn’t seem to realise how poor they are because she gets all the “comforts” she wants. For these reasons, Sylvia sees the emergence of Miss Moore and her willingness to educate them as a waste of time, and she would prefer doing other things which brought her glory. It is at this point that Sylvia gets annoyed to see an educated woman who wants to destroy her lifestyle with the stupid educational trips. Sylvia’s hate made her angry with everything associated with Miss Moore.
In one day, however, Miss Moore planned for an educational trip to a toy store away from Sylvia’s community. At the start, the day’s subject of education seems to be about money, but it ends with greater implications than expected. When Miss Moore first asks the children what money is, Sylvia gets annoyed to the extents that she questions her inner self if Miss Moore thinks they are a bunch of retards (Bambara). Miss Moore intention, however, is revealed when they finally reach the expensive store, and from which the children see extravagant prices of commodities; some toys sold way cheaper in their stores and some they have never seen before. It is in this moment that Sylvia becomes not just more annoyed, but also gets resentful of their state back in the community. However much Miss Moore was able to show the differences in standards of living, an aspect which is further illustrated by little suggestions of race, Sylvia is still reluctant to face the crude reality. Miss Moore’s major ignition of the educational trip was to show the children the inferiority, injustices, and imperfection of the world, and to which got Sylvia thinking what these other people do that they didn’t do.
Sylvia being a proud lady, she tries to hide her pain and humiliation by not accepting the differences spelt out by Miss Moore’s trip. All along, she had lived a life she considered enjoyable such that she was not interested in education, and Miss Moore was some form destruction from her “beautiful life.” The trip, however, makes Sylvia learn a lesson which disillusions her of the life and society she has been a part. Unwillingly, Sylvia is forced to notice the unfairness of life and her habitual low position, as a black lady, in the organization of events. However much she is trying to trying not to accept the apparent reality, she is irrevocably affected by the day’s revelation; all which makes her hungrier and resentful.