Jeff and Abnesti display a clear binary relationship, in which Abnesti power over Jeff. Jeff, a criminal, has to submit to submit to the scientific experiments conducted by Abnesti. Yet, Jeff and Abnesti interact as friends would, exchanging friendly banter and joking around with one another. While their relationship is friendly on a superficial level, one must wonder what Abnesti’s motivation is for his kindness. Regardless of how he interacts with test subjects, they still must participate in the experiments. He does not gain anything from being kind, and he wonders about the superficiality of his actions. He wonders if he is kind for kindness’ sake, or if he is “a monster” (Spiderhead, 68). Abnesti’s openness about his feelings makes him appear human to Jeff, which contrasts with Abnesti’s own wonderings about his humanity. Jeff views Abnesti as an equal, and although Abnesti treats Jeff as an equal, Abnesti is aware of and ok with the binary that gives him power.
Hulga is the only character in the book who I believe actually understood what mutual recognition was. It’s not to relate over assumptions that you understand anything well enough to gossip. It’s not saying “That’s Life” because no one knows what life is. To call life anything is entirely subjective and any guess as to why we are here is wrong. We have the most disgusting history that stemmed from nothing but human greed for more, but people are convinced that the modern world must mean we’ve changed, and the next generation will be different. No, when it comes to motivation, self interest is the only sustainable force that drives human beings. Empathy comes and goes but our desire for self satisfaction, validation, and any other motive of serotonin always prevail. That’s not to say there aren’t good people, or at least people who act on values that are morally acceptable. There are countless examples of it on a day to day basis. There is a lot of people fighting for absolutely good reasons, and there’s people who do a lot to attempt to make humanity better. But that was true all throughout history. There have always been good people but the evil people are always the ones who gain control because their scummy practices to achieve power are more effective than being a decent human being. I believe Hulga understands this.
Lessons come in many forms, ranging from the mundane to the epiphanizing. But what sort of lessons were taught in Toni Bambara’s short story “The Lesson”? What lessons would be expected from a story about children from 1970’s Harlem and a neighbor who’s enthusiastic about teaching them. The answer may resonate with some, as it is one of economic disparity.
Bambara’s story involves the narrator, Sylvia, and her groups of friends as they have a typical summer day. Much to their chagrin, their neighbor Miss Moore, wants to teach them a lesson, as she always does. She tells them about the importance of money and how they don’t have much of it. She then hails a taxi to take them from Harlem, at the time a poverty-stricken area of Manhattan, to Fifth Avenue, a world famous shopping district. Arriving at a toy store, the kids are baffled at the prices of the toys displayed; a microscope for $480, and a sailboat for $1400 strike them with their high cost. They wonder how anyone could afford such goods. In their neighborhood, $1400 could feed a family for a year. In this nieghborhood, it can get one high-quality toy. Sylvia then eyes a clown toy, this time only $35. She then imagines a scenaio where she asks her mom for the toy. Her mother goes on a tyrade, stating that the $35 could be used to pay off rent or buy a new bed. When the kids return home, Miss Moore asks them what they learned. Sugar, in a speech that the other kids blow off, states that this nation is not much of a democracy if everyone doesn’t have an equal chance at wealth. The kids then go off and play, as if the lesson never happened.
However, the lesson they learned has impacted their understanding of the world. Harlem is a historically black neighborhood in Upper Manhattan. At the time this story was written and from the writer’s life there, Harlem was in poverty and riddled with crime; it was a neighborhood that few wanted to live in. By making Sylvia and her friends go to Fifth Avenue, Miss Moore shows the ugly truth behind wealth disparity. Despite the fact that both area are on the same island, the amount of wealth they have is drastically different. For one area, $1000 can pay for many months of living. In the other, it can pay for one commodity. The kids are shown first hand how different their lives, and for things they cannot change.
The fake bible salesman who goes by Manley Pointer in Good Country People shows a lot of similarities to Kim, Brian’s stalker ex-girlfriend, in A Conversation About Bread. To begin, Pointer is a little bit of a stalker himself. He has gathered information about the Hopewell family somehow. He even tells Mrs. Hopewell “you’re a good woman. Friends have told me” (4). Like Kim, Manley seems to have been stalking this family to learn information about them to manipulate Hulga. This is seen when he talks about having a heart condition and only a few years to live. He only lies about this because it gives him something in common with Hulga, who is in that exact situation. Another more important similarity is the fact that they were only interested in Brian and Hulga because of their disabilities. This is seen when at the end Manley reveals himself and mentions “One time I got a woman’s glass eye this way” (9). This shows that like Kim, Manley is interested in people with disabilities only because of their disabilities. Even worse, he connects the objects that they need to help them function by stealing from them. So while Kim was a stalker, Manley is a stalker and a thief.
What this all shows about Manely and Kim is that their characters are not able to mutually recognize other people. They both push the power dynamic of ABLE/disabled because they do not see those different from them as equals. As a result of seeing Hulga and Brian as less than them they do awful things like stalking and theft of things that they need. These two characters serve as examples of what not to do. If Kim and Manely had the ability to mutually recognize others these stories would be very different.