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This short story is really all about the conflict between Jing-Mei and her mother. One useful exercise I get my students to do is to trace this conflict throughout the story on a graph with two lines: one representing Jing Mei and the other her mother. The distance or closeness between these two lines indicates the closeness in their relationship.
For me, the rising action begins when Jing Mei's mother comes up with the piano idea. Jing Mei talks about "warning signs" and then regrets defending the Chinese girl her mother is watching playing. After this we can see the conflict escalating between Jing Mei and her mother. Jing Mei feels like she has been "sent to hell" when told about her piano lessons and this leads to an outburst where she demands to be accepted for who she is: "Why don't you like me the way I am? I'm not a genius!" The centre of the conflict is clearly Jing Mei's disastrous performance and the accompanying fall-out with Jing Mei screams that she wishes she was dead like her dead baby brothers and sisters. The falling action therefore is what remains of the story between this point and the end - Jing Mei's gaining of the piano and her final self-acceptance. This period, before the end, Jing Mei describes as follows: "In the years that followed, I failed her so many times, each time asserting my own will, my right to fall short of expectations."
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