Education in the 1950’s—70’s and specifically during the civil rights movement was the only way an African American could get a footing in society.In the early 1970’s, many African Americans experienced unrest as they were not granted some of the same civil liberties white folks were. African Americans were not given the same opportunities when it came to education, political voice, and common acknowledgement which created a natural divide in cities around the world. This is widely expressed in Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson,” as the children in the story who grow up in Harlem, know to accept that they will never leave the bounds of Harlem and live the American Dream. Bambara uses the characters of Miss Moore and Sylvia to reveal the nature of their personalities and how they both relate to attaining the American Dream. Similarly, Bambara uses the symbols of the sailboats and the toy clown to express the quality of life the children should work and strive for.
The lesson taught to the protagonist from a simple trip to a toy store is that the American Dream from the African American perspective is only achievable through significant hard work and education.