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The Lesson

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Short essay on Bambara's The Lesson
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  Curso Monográfico de Literatura NorteamericanaSheila González Expósito THE LESSON  African-American Literature The term AfricanAmerican literature refers to the literar! or#s ritten in the$nited States %! riters of African descent& Among them e find important riters such asthe pioneers 'hillis (heatle! and )laudah E*uiano+ or more recent authors such as Toni Morrison and (alter Mosle!&AfricanAmerican literature has gone through different periods and thus+ e candistinguish among Earl!American literature+ sla,e narrati,es+ or#s hich %elong to the postsla,er! era+ -arlem .enaissance literature+ Ci,il .ights Mo,ement era ritings+ and or#s from a recent histor!& /n the last decades AfricanAmerican riters ha,e achie,edgreat prestige and the! ha,e %ecome %estsellers and ha,e on man! a ards& The mostfre*uent topics of their or#s are the position of AfricanAmericans in the Americansociet!0 sla,er! and racism+ social status and ine*ualit!+ etc& The! transmit the feelings of the 1Negros2 li,ing in a countr! here the! had to suffer oppression from the hites andtheir struggle to %eing respected and ha,e the same rights than the rest of people&/n the last period e find Toni Cade 3am%ara& She as %orn in Ne 4or# Cit! andgre up in different areas of the cit!+ including -arlem+ and in Ne 5erse!& She %egan riting at an earl! age and after graduating from 6ueens College she studied in 7rance and/tal!& Apart from her riting career+ 3am%ara as a documentar!film ma#er+ a socialacti,ist+ and a uni,ersit! professor&A distincti,e feature of her or#s is the incorporation of dialectal forms and slang ords that ma#e her stories and characters more realistic& -er or# as explicitl! political+ concerned ith in8ustice and oppression in general and ith the fate of AfricanAmerican communities and grassroots political organizations in particular& 7emale protagonists and narrators dominate her ritings& She as al a!s influenced %! the peopleof -arlem and %! her mother+ ho urged her and her %rother (alter 9an esta%lished painter: to %e proud of African American culture and histor!& ; The Lesson E,en though on the surface The Lesson  deals ith a teacher and a group of children ho go to the centre of Ne 4or# in order to ,isit a famous to! shop+ actuall! the stor! isan anal!sis of the American societ! from the point of ,ie of a !oung AfricanAmerican ;  <http=>> &gradesa,er&com>?  girl& /t deals ith serious topics such as the differences %et een the hites and the1Negros2 and the unfair sharing out of mone! in the $nited States&The stor! is set in a period of time in hich man! AfricanAmericans mo,ednorth ards escaping po,ert!+ in search of a %etter emplo!ment and a %etter life in general&As S!l,ia sa!s+ the! 1all mo,ed North the same time and to the same apartment2& Theresult of this migration as the creation of cit! areas inha%ited %! groups of AfricanAmerican people+ ho generall! li,ed under %ad conditions& This image is perfectl! portra!ed at the %eginning of The Lesson + hen S!l,ia is descri%ing her neigh%ourhood= (e @B hated the inos ho cluttered up our par#s and pissed on our hand%all alls and stan# up our hall a!s and stairs so !ou couldnt half a! pla! hideandsee# ithout a goddamn gas mas#&/n that a!+ she depicts the li,ing conditions of the %lac# communit!+ hich differ considera%l! from the en,ironments of the rich hites& This dualistic ,ie of the orld is present throughout the stor!0 %lac#s and hites seem to li,e in t o completel! different orlds& Moreo,er+ this di,ision is not simpl! a *uestion of race %ut also a *uestion of mone!& /n fact+ ealth and race are intimatel! lin#ed in The Lesson & Although it is notmentioned+ the childrenDs neigh%ourhood is li#el! to %e -arlem+ and the store the! ,isit ison the 7ifth A,enue+ the most expensi,e area situated on the centre of Ne 4or# Cit!&E,en though race is not explicitl! mentioned+ it lies underneath the narration& 7or S!l,ia+ the real orld is her neigh%ourhood+ inha%ited %! %lac# people li#e her+ and heremone! is too tight& 7or that reason+ hen the girl goes to 7& A& )& Sch artz she is reluctantto %elie,e that hite people can afford those expensi,e items+ and hat is more+ that the!are illing to aste their mone! in to!s+ hich after all are useless items& A rele,ant passage in the stor! related to this idea of race is the moment hen S!l,ia sees a oman ina fur coat& She exclaims= 1(hite fol#s craz!2+ since she does not understand ho a personcan ear such a piece of cloth in summer&Another remar#a%le aspect related to mone! is the astronomic prices of the to!s andho the children compare them ith their famil!Ds status& Apart from %eing amazed %! thegreat amount of to!s the! encounter+ hat surprises them the most is its prices0 amicroscope hich costs F+ a paper eight for HI+ a ;+;JK fi%reglass %oat& As one of the children points out+ he ould ha,e to sa,e up mone! 1too long2 in order to could affordthem& 3ut there is an item in hich S!l,ia especiall! thin#s a%out on her a! %ac# home+ aclo n that costs FK& She thin#s a%out all the things her famil! could do ith that mone!+from ,isiting her grandfather on the countr! to pa!ing for the rent& This leads her to  *uestion the #ind of orld e li,e in 1(ho are these people that spend that much for  performing clo ns and ; for to! sail%oats (hat #inda or# the! do and ho the!li,e and ho come e aint in on it2The mone! differences are not onl! to %e seen %et een %lac#s and hites %ut the!also exist ithin the children themsel,es& E,en though the! all are poor+ a certain degree of comfort can %e seen in some characters& Thus+ hen the! are in front of the to! storetal#ing a%out the paper eight Mercedes affirms that she has got a des# at home+ a presentfrom her godmother+ in contrast to 5une%ug ho does not and to 7l!%o!+ ho remar#s= 1/donDt e,en ha,e a home2&Education also appears as an important theme in the stor! and the character identified ith it is Ms Moore& She is descri%ed %! S!l,ia as a lad! 1 ith napp! hair and proper speech and no ma#eup2+ 1the onl! oman in the %loc# ith no first name2& The!oung girl seems not to li#e the oman0 she thin#s she %ores the children ith things the!do not care a%out and hat is more+ e,en though she is AfricanAmerican too and li,es inthe same neigh%ourhood+ she is someho different from the rest of the communit!&-o e,er+ Ms Moore is more than that& As the narrator sa!s+ she ent to college and then+she is the right person to 1ta#e responsi%ilit! for the !oung onesD education2& /n a hidden a! Ms Moore tries to ma#e the children a are of the pro%lems AfricanAmericans and poor people face and to help them realize that there is a orld outside their currenten,ironment that the! can aspire to+ that the! ha,e a right to en8o! e,er!thing the! ha,e %een depri,ed from& This can %e clearl! seen in the follo ing *uotation= (here e are is ho e are+ Miss Moore al a!s pointin out& 3ut it dontnecessaril! ha,e to %e that a!+ she al a!s adds then aits for some%od! to sa!that poor people ha,e to a#e up and demand their share of the pie&S!l,iaDs opinion is reinforced hen+ at the end of the stor!+ Ms Moore complainsa%out this #ind of societ! in hich 1some people can spend on a to! hat it ould cost tofeed a famil! of six or se,en&2 Not onl! does Ms Moore attempt to sho them the real orld+ %ut she also ants todemonstrate to them the importance of education& She tries to put into practice the#no ledge the! learn at school& 7or example+ hen the! ta#e a taxi to the 7ifth A,enue+ theteacher as#s S!l,ia to calculate the ; percent of K in order to gi,e the dri,er a tip&Something similar happens hen the! are in the store tal#ing a%out %oats& S!l,ia is curiousF  a%out ho much a real %oat ould cost and so+ she as#s Ms Moore& The oman replies=1(h! donDt !ou chec# that out and report %ac# it the group2After all that has %een said+ the important *uestion no is= (hat does the lesson of the title refer to (hen the children go %ac# to their neigh%ourhood not all of them seem toha,e understood hat Ms Moore anted them to learn and her reactions are *uite different&Though the! are not mature enough+ some of the children sho a deep concern a%out theissue %ut others don not& (hile Mercedes is 8ust fascinated ith all the things she has seenand ishes to go %ac# again+ surprisingl! Sugar gi,es a critical reflection= 4ou #no + Miss Moore+ / dont thin# all of us here put together eat in a !ear hatthat sail%oat costs& @B / thin# that this is not much of a democrac! @B E*ualchance to pursue happiness means an e*ual crac# at the dough+ dont it)n the other hand+ e ha,e S!l,iaDs reaction& She is angr! during the hole ,isit to7& A& )& Sch arz and+ e,en though she is un illing to accept it+ she is reall! concerneda%out the orldDs ine*ualit!& $nli#e her friend Sugar+ ho lea,es the issue aside+ S!l,iaseems to %e terri%l! upset& 1Somethin eird is goin on+ / can feel it in m! chest2+ shefinall! admits to herself+ and hile Sugar is thin#ing on spending the four dollars on somefood+ S!l,ia is going to 1thin# this da! through2  A reflection on the story 3am%ara perfectl! reflects the thoughts and feelings of the children through thestor!+ especiall! S!l,iaDs& At the %eginning the reader can see a child ho is a %it unrul!and ho does not li#e going to school+ instead she prefers pla!ing and ha,ing fun ith her friends& -o e,er+ as the stor! goes %!+ S!l,iaDs transformation can %e appreciated& Thistransformation %egins to %e noticed the moment the children are a%out to enter the shop&The girl expresses her feelings through the follo ing ords= So me and Sugar turn the corner to here the entrance is+ %ut hen e get there /#inda hang %ac#& Not that /m scared+ hats there to %e afraid of+ 8ust a to! store&3ut / feel funn!+ shame& 3ut hat / got to %e shamed a%out Got as much right togo in as an!%od!& 3ut someho / cant seem to get hold of the door+ so / step a a!from Sugar to lead& 3ut she hangs %ac# too& And / loo# at her and she loo#s at meand this is ridiculous& / mean+ damn+ / ha,e ne,er e,er %een sh! a%out doingnothing or going no here&As it can %e o%ser,ed+ there is something pre,enting S!l,ia from entering the store&She is not comforta%le ith the situation and that is something she has not experiencedH
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