A Battle Within
In life we encounter many life changing experiences that if we allow them can change and build our character. The Lesson by Toni Bambara is a perfect illustration that focuses on the emotional struggle of a young poverty stricken girl named Sylvia. Although in the story Sylvias attitude and behavior expresses her to be a very stubborn character we are able to see with evidence the unexpected emotional change she secretly encounters after her visit to F.A.O. Schwarz. Some of the many feelings she faces after being taken out of her comfort zone, into this very expensive toy store are anger, shame, and betrayal.
As Sylvias usual negative behavior, she categorizes her surroundings as old and stupid young and foolish and describes her best friend and herself as the only ones just right. This type of attitude represents Sylvias level of ignorance and also demonstrates her stubbornness towards new things and new people. Her usual environment the slums as named by another character, doesnt enforce her to react positively to certain issues that can build her mind. This leaves Sylvia never having to face any type of obstacle that can sharpen her as a human being.
However, after being taken out of her usual environment by a new lady in town named Miss Moore, Sylvia has no choice but to face unfamiliar emotions and thoughts. Miss Moore a well educated lady, who feels responsible in expanding Sylvias mind, takes her and company in an interesting trip to F.A.O. Schwarz in New York City. Here Sylvia and the rest of the gang get really fascinated with all the beautiful and exciting toys they see while admiring them from the outside window. During all the excitement they felt after the admiration of the toys, Sylvia becomes puzzled by the price on a particular sailboat. The tag on the boat read Handcrafted Sailboat of Fiberglass at One Thousand One Hundred Ninety Five Dollars. Sylvia understands the importance of spending money wisely but can seem to image that someone would be able or simply would pay so much money on a sailboat. Confused and angry at the idea she said For some reason this pisses me off and later expresses how it seems unnecessary to even think of spending so much money on such toy. At this point she permits herself just a bit to question the value of a dollar and said What I want to know is how much a real boat cost? I figure a thousand get u a yacht any day But quickly shuts herself down once Miss Moore challenges her to explore the answer herself. Unfortunately due to her stubbornness and sensibility to new things her feelings prevent her from learning.
The moment Miss Moore decides to finally walk into the toy store Sylvia quickly fills up with shame. Confused to why she feels this way she said But when we get there I kinda hang back. Not that Im scared. But I feel funny, shame. Sylvia realizes and cant seem to avoid the feeling of not fitting in these types of surroundings. The toy store seems to be a mirror that only reflects her level of class and her insecurities. She relates this moment to a previous dare, where she also faced the realization of her fears. Although she stumbles into these types of scenarios she still refuses to learn or even understand the reasons to these emotions.
Sugar, Sylvias best friend, has been Sylvias shadow throughout the entire story until Sugar decided to slightly speak her mind. This occurs as soon as Miss Moore questions the group to what their thoughts were on the toy store. Sugar response You know Miss Moore I dont think all of us here put together can eat in a year what that sailboat cost. This type of interest leaves Sylvia feeling betrayed by her best friend. Sylvia refuses to see the big picture and sticks to the idea that there is nothing to learn and that there is no point in desiring such expensive toys. Knowing that Sugar usually stands by her side at everything, finds herself really surprised that Sugar for once had an opinion of her own. Stunned by Sugars response Sylvia intent is to stop her from continuing but gets ignore and neglected by Sugar. After this reaction Sylvias feels double crossed, highly angry and said Im disgusted with sugars treachery. Still refusing to understand the reality of the event she walks off confused. Not accepting any outer opinion or support she hides behind her attitude and goes off secretly in a different direction to analyze and ponder on her experience.
Unfortunately throughout the entire experience Sylvia rejects all of the opportunities given to her to expand her mind. She faces all these unusual emotions and challenges that can build character but only secretly meditates on them. The fear of failing or simply sounding unknowledgeable is what keeps her from openly learning and accepting new ideas. Although she does mention Im going to the West End and then over the Drive to think this day through she lets her insecurities control her. This keeps Sylvia from growing out of the limited mentality her environment has embedded in her.