What Is the Theme of “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara?

The theme of “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara is social inequality and the lack of quality education for African-American children. This short story was first published in 1972 and is a narrative told in the first person by a young black girl growing up in Harlem.

Miss Moore, the only educated person in the neighborhood, takes some children on a trip to F.A.O. Schwartz in Manhattan. Sylvia, the young narrator and protagonist of the story, initially looks upon Miss Moore with bitterness and defiance. She believes Miss Moore is preventing the children from having fun. In reality, the goal of the trip is to show the children another side of life, hoping they realize that education is important if they want a better lifestyle.

Initially, Sylvia is resistant to the lesson Miss Moore is attempting to impart. All she sees are toys with price tags that could feed a family of six. Eventually, however, she comes to realize the message of social inequality, and knows that she has the power to change the course of her life. Although she is still somewhat cynical and bitter at the end of the story, the reader can see there is a glimmer of hope and desire for change in Sylvia’s outlook on life.