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For example, Sylvia takes offense when Miss Moore says they live in the slums. Bambara writes, "And then she gets to the part about we all poor and live in the slums which I don't feature. And I'm ready to speak on that, but she steps out in the street and hails two cabs just like that" (Bambara). Sylvia and her friends are not afraid to talk back to grown-ups, express their opinions, and be sarcastic to each other. To make them meek, mild, and educated would ruin the meaning of the story. Just as Miss Moore has to be a certain way, the children have to be a certain way for the story to be effective. There has to be conflict between the children and Miss Moore for the ultimate "lesson" of the story to sink in. Sylvia learns it, she just will not acknowledge it, and that is another effective part of her personality.
Sylvia and Miss Moore have to be different for another part of the story to be effective. It seems that Sylvia is so critical of Miss Moore because deep down, she admires her. She would certainly never admit that to her friends, because that would make her the butt of their jokes and scorn. However, there are places in the story where she grudgingly admits Miss Moore has things they do not. Bambara writes, "She'd been to college and said it was only right that she should take responsibility for the young ones' education, and she not even related by marriage or blood" (Bambara). Sylvia cannot even admit it to herself, but it is clear she admires Miss Moore because she got out of the ghetto and made something of herself. She also is so responsible that she moves back in order to help other children get out of the ghetto and make better lives for themselves.
There is another reason Sylvia and Miss Moore must be in conflict in the story. It is very conceivable that Miss Moore sees herself in Sylvia when she was young, which is why she especially wants her to succeed. She looks to her for answers, gives her special assignments, and expects her to learn the valuable lesson she teaches. Sylvia is still too proud and immature to acknowledge this, but it is easy for the reader to see. Miss Moore was probably a lot like Sylvia when she was a girl - spunky, arrogant, a leader, and sarcastic. It is what gets Sylvia through life in the ghetto, and these are probably some of the elements that helped Miss Moore get and education and move on. Miss Moore has grown up and become a more dignified adult, but she was once raw like Sylvia, and so she knows Sylvia has the potential to succeed.
Finally, the most important aspect of Sylvia and Miss Moore's relationship is not resolved by the end of the story, but it is clear Sylvia has changed. Suddenly, she does not want to push and shove the other children. She has money in her pocket, but she also has some thoughts in her mind that were not there before. It seems she has grown up a little during the visit to the toy store. To make the ending true to the story, she could never admit that to Miss Moore, but there is a subtle change in her attitude that gives hope for the future. The reader hopes that in the future, the two women become closer, and Miss Moore has a big effect on how Sylvia grows from girl to woman.
In conclusion, without the conflict between Miss Moore and Sylvia, this story could not exist. There would be no lesson to learn, and no wedge between Miss Moore and the children. If they simple accepted her when she moved into the neighborhood, there would be no story to tell. They would learn their lessons, they would all become college educated, and they would move on to better lives. Clearly, that will not happen. Some of these children will never make it out of the slums, while some will begin to take Miss Moore and her teachings more seriously. Hopefully, one of those wise children will be Sylvia.
Bambara, Toni Cade. "The Lesson." University of California at Davis. 2006. 30 Nov. 2006. http://cai.ucdavis.edu/gender/thelesson.html[continue]
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