What Does Jing-mei`s Mother Want Her To Be?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Amy Tan’s wrote about her relationship as a child with her mother in “Two Kinds.” The author tells the story of her difficult mother-daughter relationship from the vantage point of an adult looking back at her childhood.

The author’s Chinese immigrant mother tried to model Jing-Mei [Tan’s Chinese name] into a prodigy. Her view of her mother changed-- particularly since her mother dies and she must go through her belongings.  Now, the author relates her story with humor, sadness, love, appreciation and shame [for the treatment of her good intentioned mother].   

The mother’s ambition for her daughter is to find a skill or a talent and become a prodigy.  Once her daughter has found her talent, this will be something that no one can take away from her.  Although her methods are strange, the mother’s purpose is true and well-meaning. The mother wants her daughter to have a more secure and better life than she had.

The life of her mother had been filled with suffering and loss.  When she lived in China, the author’s mother lost her own parents, her family home, her first husband, and twins.  Finally, she was forced to leave China.  The mother’s philosophy is that anything can be accomplished in America. 

The mother struggles with ways for her daughter to fulfill the American Dream.  The mother’s vision of the American Dream seems largely formed by movies, television, and popular magazines. Her mother’s demands frustrate Jing-Mei who was anxious to find her own interests and identity.  Jing-Mei, at least in her younger years, was just as stubborn and determined as her mother.

 I saw what seemed to be the prodigy side of me—because I had never seen that face before.  I looked at my reflection, blinking so I could see more clearly.  The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful.  This girl and I were the same.  I had new thoughts, willful thoughts, or rather thoughts filled with lots of negatives. I won’t let her change me, I promised myself.  I won’t be what I’m not. 

 As an immigrant, Tan’s mother struggles to adapt to her new country.  The difference between the first and second generations creates many problems.  However, no one can fault the mother in her attempt to help her daughter. In addition to the many houses that she cleans per week, the mother is willing to clean a man’s apartment in order to get the piano lessons that she wants her daughter to have.

Making her take the piano lessons resulted in a disastrous talent show performance.  She and her mother argue about continuing with the lessons.  This causes a detrimental dialogue in which the author says something that once said is hard to take back.

“I wish you weren’t my mother,” I shouted.  It felt like worms and toads and slimy things crawling out of my chest, but it also felt good, as if this awful side of me had surfaced, at last. … “I wish I were dead...” 

 Because of her past suffering, her continued pain, and her sometimes humorous actions, the mother is a sympathetic character, even if she can be overbearing to Jing-Mei, with whom she does make peace as an adult by offering her the piano—“a sign of forgiveness, a tremendous burden removed.”

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amiet731 | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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Jing-mei's mother wants her to be a prodigy. She wants Jing-mei to be obedient to her and follow her wishes and dreams for her. These are the types of cultural issues that are at odds being that Jing-mei is being raised in America.  Her mother clearly states, "Only two kinds of daughters...Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind!" "Only one kind of daughter can live in this house."  Jing-mei wants to live out her own dreams and aspirations, but she still wants her parents to love her. 

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puzzlepieces | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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She wants her daughter to be a modern American woman, to have all of the opportunities that she did not have as a Chinese woman; she wants her to be independent, strong, to fulfill her potential.  However, she also wants her to respect her heritage -- which in this case means showing respect for her elders.  The two wishes seem to juxtapose each other in the case of Jing Mei and her mother. Only later, as an adult, when her mother is no longer around, does Jing Mei see that the independent American woman and the woman of Chinese heritage can be and are two sides to the same coin, or rather, two variations on the same piece of music.

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