March 2, 2005
“The Lesson” is a short story about two cousins who think they know it all. The narrator of the story,
Sylvia, is more outspoken than her cousin Sugar. Throughout the story Sugar and Sylvia, along with some other children, are
being taught a lesson about the value of money and how underprivileged they are. By the end of the story, we notice a change
in Sugar’s attitude although Sylvia stays the same.
From the very beginning of the story, we can tell that Sylvia thinks she and Sugar are better than everyone else. Sylvia
says, “Back in the days when everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish and me and Sugar were the only ones just
right, this lady moved on our block with nappy hair and proper speech and no make-up” (628). The lady she is talking
about is Miss Moore. We see that she is defensive towards Miss Moore and thinks she is better than her, even though Miss Moore
only tries to help her. Even before Miss Moore fully introduces the lesson, Sylvia gets defensive and would rather be elsewhere.
This is obvious when she says, “So right away I’m tired of this and say so. And would much rather snatch Sugar
and go to the Sunset and terrorize the West Indian kids and take their hair ribbons and their money too” (629). Sylvia
doesn’t feel that she needs to be a part of this lesson because she doesn’t think they are underprivileged. This
is evident when she says, “And then she goes on to the part about we all poor and live in the slums, which I don’t
We see the first sign that they are underprivileged when they catch a cab to F.A.O. Schwartz, an expensive toy store.
Instead of giving the cab driver a ten cent tip, Sylvia decides to keep the money Miss Moore gave her for herself. “And
I’m stalling to figure out the tip and Sugar says give him a dime. And I decide he don’t need it bad as I do,
so later for him” (630).
Even before they get a chance to go into the toy store, Sylvia gets upset about the prices of some toys. They look
in the store window and one of the things they notice is a paperweight. The price of the paperweight is $480 and Sylvia finds
it hard to believe. “My eyes tell me it’s a chunk of glass cracked with something heavy, and different color inks
dripped into the splits, then the whole thing put into an oven or something. But for $480 it don’t make sense”
(630). Obviously, she has never seen anything so simple cost that much. She stares at it for a while, but quickly gets over
the price of the paperweight when she sees the price of a sailboat. They are all shocked when they see the price tag and they
read it together, “Handcrafted sailboat of fiberglass at one thousand one hundred ninety-five dollars” (631).
The only reason I would think the price of the sailboat would make her mad is the fact that she can’t afford it.
As Sylvia goes toward the entrance of the store, for some reason she doesn’t open the door, but just stands there.
“So me and Sugar turn the corner to where the entrance is, but when we get there we kinda hang back. Not that I’m
scared, what’s there to be afraid of, just a toy store. But I feel funny, shame. But what I got to be shamed about?
Got as much right to go in as anybody. But somehow I can’t seem to get hold of the door, so I been shy about doing nothing
or going nowhere” (632). We see at this point that they feel like they don’t belong in the store and are afraid
to go in. Eventually, they all go into the store but are very cautious. They tiptoe through the store and don’t touch
anything. It seems as if they are afraid to even touch things that are expensive. Even in the store we can tell that Sylvia
is upset about something, but when she is asked what’s wrong she wants to leave.
By the time they get back home we notice a change in Sugar even though she hasn’t said much throughout the whole
story. We see that she has learned from Miss Moore’s lesson and Sylvia hasn’t learned a thing. As Sugar is explaining
to Miss Moore what she has learned, Sylvia tries to shut her up by standing on her foot. Sugar pushes her off and continues
to talk. “‘I think’ say Sugar pushing me off her feet like she never done before, cause I whip her ass in
a minute, ‘that this is not much of a democracy if you ask me’” (633). Sylvia is upset with Sugar because
for once she has learned something from Miss Moore. We know that Sylvia hasn’t learned anything because when Miss Moore
asks if anyone else learned anything, Sylvia just walks away.
Sugar’s change is brought about at the toy store in which she realizes she is underprivileged. Sylvia is still
stuck in her way and I don’t think she will ever change.