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The Lesson Classic Short Story Fiction by Toni Cade Bambara

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Miss Moore focuses on Sylvia and asks again what the children learned. Sylvia is quiet and leaves. Sugar and Sylvia leave together, and she lets Sugar run ahead of her. She plans on going off to be alone to think about the day. By the late 19th century, ethnic dialects, like that appear in the narrative voice of Sylvia, formed a voice for social commentary and political satire. The power of voice in constructing this realism and response to larger social, cultural, and racial issues was often used to reflect back to the perspectives of an oppressed black audience of peers and contemporaries (Heller 280).

This seems to apply in the case of “ The Lesson” , insofar as the African-American Vernacular English the narrator is using is an assertion of a primary identity. A primary identity is the account of oneself a person gives based on the linguistic community to which he or she belongs. From the voice the narrator uses, the fact of her African-American selfhood is apparent through her diction, syntax, and a number of other grammatical indicators of a Black speaker.

This African-American English implies then that the narrator’ s perspective is inseparably tied to the Black experience, which is characteristically tied to the phenomenon of inequality and social/economic injustice. As a result, events taking place within the narrative are to be analyzed in the context of such conditions (Eldred 693). This is why Sylvia’ s rage in the presence of an awareness of injustice marks a large difference in the style of a speech she uses in a narration. When her manner of speaking brushes up against the nature of the injustice, the voice turns into one of resentment and hatred.

Because the story is told in the first-person, the reader is given an opportunity to see the events unfolding in the plot from the perspective of a realistic protagonist. Though she is arrogant and bright, and foul-mouthed, she is also witty: incorporating a lot of humor that is often lost on readers of contemporary fiction. Because of her position as a young Black girl in a society operating against that primary identity, she is forced to deal with the realization that she occupies a low rung in the ladder of society.  

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