The Lesson - Andrei Guth Professor Sharon English 102 28...

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Andrei Guth Professor Sharon English 102 28 February 2008 Lessons in Character: Poverty as a Theme
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Very few people in our country who are middle or upper class truly understand what poverty is like. Statistics do not help dissolve this misunderstanding, but stories can. “The Lesson,” a short story by Toni Cade Bambara, offers a brilliant illustration of the lives of people living in the slums of New York City. It sheds light on poverty during the 1960s with a vivid and realistic portrayal of its main character. Bambara’s protagonist, an uneducated black teenager named Sylvia, is the focus of her story. Sylvia is extremely well-developed, from her unsavory language and behavior to her vulnerable emotions. Bambara tames no part of her personality to suit an educated and articulate reader. As Nancy D. Hargrove so well states, “Arrogant, sassy, and tough, with a vocabulary that might shock a sailor, Sylvia is also witty, bright, and vulnerable.” (Hargrove) In the opening paragraph, the reader immediately understands Sylvia’s disposition from her disdain for Miss Moore, the woman “with proper speech and no make up.” (353, Kirszner and Mandell) Her teacher is not just disrespected and unappreciated; Sylvia hates “this nappy-head bitch and her goddamn college degree.” (354, Kirszner and Mandell) Coupled with her and her cousins’ “fat-lady bump-stomach routine,” in which they create a nuisance of themselves on the way to Fifth Avenue, she becomes a fleshed-out character with an uneducated and unruly personality. Yet she is more than a two-dimensional, simple-minded young girl. Sylvia has a very hard time reconciling the fact that there are people “who’d pay [$1,195] when you can buy a sailboat set for a quarter.” (356, Kirszner and
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Mandell) The unfairness of such an unbalanced society, in which some people can afford luxuries for the same price that another person could live off of, creates an emotional disturbance within her, to the point that she gets “a headache for thinking so hard.” (358, Kirszner and Mandell) She learns from
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This essay was uploaded on 04/08/2008 for the course ENG 102 taught by Professor Sharon during the Spring '08 term at Burlington CC.

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The Lesson - Andrei Guth Professor Sharon English 102 28...

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