Various symbols are used in “The Lesson,” by Toni Cade Bambara, to represent the social and economic inequality faced by the children in this story. The children, not that they asked for it, are dealt the bad hand by fate. It is up to them to decide what to do about it or even to do anything at all.
A great deal of symbolism can be found by simply examining the name Ms. Moore. Marital status does not define her – notice the Ms. Quite frankly, the reader is not even informed if she is married or even if she has children of her own. She is a very independent woman. Not only does the prefix of Ms. Moore represent that she is independent, but her last name also shows the she wants more for the children, because, according to her, they deserve more. Her purpose is to help the children realize that there is a world outside of Harlem that they can aspire to. Although F.A.O. Schwartz is just a small part of that world, the trip here with Ms. Moore shows the children a great deal about what the outside world is like and how anyone can have that piece of the pie. Even though the children could never afford the toys, Ms. Moore brings them to the store to show them they have just as much right to be there and just as much right to live the rich life as anyone else. Sylvia, the narrator, is upset by the inequality. She is jealous of the life she can’t have and is angry that Ms. Moore would expose her to these facts. Although, Sylvia would never let her know this.
A comparison of F.A.O. Schwartz and the Catholic Church is used to represent the life of extravagance only experienced by the wealthy people, the life that these children were never blessed with. The trip to F.A.O. Schwartz reminds Sylvia of the time she and Sugar ventured into the Catholic Church to play a practical joke only to realize, once they had entered, that they could not go through with the plan. The enormous size of the church as well as all of its possessions – statues, sacred objects, stained glass windows, and various other things – all represent wealth. F.A.O. Schwartz also represents wealth to the children. They are scared to go into the store, and when they do finally enter, they tip-toe through it just as they tip-toed through the church, hardly touching the toys. A life of wealth and extravagance is found in the store. The children are upset by this and also by the fact that Ms. Moore exposed them to this reality.
Through the help of Ms. Moore, the children gain the knowledge they need about the world they live in and are able to apply this newly learned information to their lives. The children are educated by example and are shown that they don’t have to live in their comfort zone. Even though they are angry about what they have learned, it is necessary for Ms. Moore to show them what they can have, what anyone can have.