Compare and Contrast Literature Essay

Dorothy Parker’s “The Standard of Living” and Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson” are two stories which touch the theme of social inequality and poverty. Though the stories describe similar themes the authors use different literary devices in order to bring their ideas to the readers. The stories are written in different style and turn to different techniques.

Dorothy Parker’s story is written as a third-person narration. The story is told by the author-observer who watches the lives of two girls.  We make our mind about the girls from the descriptions given by the author. Two main characters of the story are low-midclass girls, Annabel and Midge, who spend their Saturday afternoon hanging around the city.

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The author describes a “what-would-you-do-if-you-had-a-million-dollars game” the girls play daydreaming about posh and luxurious life they don’t have in reality.  They take the game seriously and spend hours inventing things whey would have spent money on. Small episode with pearl necklace which costs a quarter million dollars makes the girls suddenly realize their social position and the standards of their living. It takes them only several minutes to forget about the disappointing accident and continue the game. The author doesn’t give direct characteristics of the main characters. The reader is left to make an opinion of his own from the descriptions given by the author and talks of the protagonists.  From the way the girls dress, look, speak we can make our own opinion about them.

In “The Lesson” by Tony Bambara the story is told from the first person. Small African-American girl Sylvia from poor subways of the city recalls one episode from her life. Mrs. Moor takes children from poor district to the luxurious shop of expensive toys situated on the Fifth Avenue.  Children are stunned gazing at the toys which cost more than their whole community would have spent in six months. The meeting with the world of rich becomes a shock for Sylvia and she reacts with anger and envy. The realization of inequality, which exists in the society becomes a hard lesson for her. The author managed to reproduce the way of thinking, speaking and behaving of a small girl. The use of colloquial language and swear words recreating the way kids from her community communicate every day. Such a method not only gives us a better account of the life of people described in the story, but also give us insight into the inner world of the protagonist. The reader soon understands that Sylvia’s sharp words, mocking and swear words is nothing but her attempt to defense herself form the harsh truth of life she doesn’t want to recognize.  Such a kind of narration creates an interesting effect. The reader penetrates the inner world of the main character but, at the same time, goes behind it and understands things, which are not realized by the small girl.

Both stories center on the topics of social injustice and the way different people handle it. Different forms chosen by different authors sever to fulfill their ideas and create a unique way to pass their massages to the reader.


Bambara, Toni Cade. «The Lesson.» Eds. Hans P. Guth and Gabriele L. Rico. Discovering Literature: Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997. 307-12.
Dorothy ParkerThis Is My Best ed. Whit Burnett (Dial Press, 1942, 1180pp, hc)

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