Teenagers usually exhibit a mixture of childishness and maturity as they evolve into adults. Often a striking event or experience will catalyze an adolescent's intellectual growth. Toni Cade Bambara's short story "The Lesson" fuses the dual themes of economic disparity with coming of age. A group of inner city minorities observe the exuberance of Fifth Avenue, triggering feelings of anger in the narrator. Sylvia, however, retains her self-centered childishness while she witnesses her best friends' maturation. Sugar is the character that truly comes of age in Bambara's "The Lesson."
The story opens with insight into the narrator's peer group dynamic. Here are teenagers who still cling to their mischievousness and childishness. Sylvia, the narrator, is especially put off by Miss Moore's attempt to instill in the teens morality and life lessons. Because Miss Moore is an educated woman, the community bestows respect on her, and she serves as a surrogate teacher. But Sylvia, Sugar, and the other kids who embark on the field trip to F.A.O. Schwartz do not yet appreciate Miss Moore's intentions. Instead, they giggle and belittle the woman.