Describe the relationship between Jing-Mei and her mother in "Two Kinds".

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In considering both of the main characters, we can feel empathy as readers with both of their positions, and likewise we can identify that the way they interact can be cruel and heartless.

We are made to feel both pity for and resentment at Jing Mei's mother. We are given brief details about her difficult past in China and how she viewed her coming to America as representing being somewhere where anyone could achieve anything, so from this perspective we can understand the pressure under which Jing Mei is placed by her mother: partly her mother wants her daughter to have the success and prosperity that she was never able to have in her childhood and life.

However, through use of first person narration we are able to identify with the character of Jing Mei, and appreciate her increasing resentment throughout the story of her mother and her desire to be her own person and to be "normal".

Jing Mei and her mother both commit acts of cruely to each other, the high point of conflict coming after Jing Mei's disastrous debut as a pianist, when she refers to her mother's other children that died. Both characters are incredibly stubborn, and even though Jing Mei admits she could have become a competent pianist, she deliberately chose not to as a means of defying her mother's wishes and becoming the person she chose to be.

What is interesting about the ending of the story is Jing Mei's description of the piano as a "shiny trophy" - suggesting perhaps that she had metaphorically "won" it, but on her own terms, rather than by following her mother's plan for her life. Jing Mei's realisation that the piece of music "Pleading Child" is coupled with "Perfectly Contented" likewise provides a pleasing ending to this excerpt as we come to see that Jing Mei has reached a stage where she is no longer trying to gain her mother's approval and is at peace with her own decisions and life choices.

The two main characters in "Two Kinds" therefore are similar in their stubborness and resolute nature. Jing Mei's mother insists on trying to mould her daughter into a "prodigy" for a number of motives - both for her own good and for pride. However, in response to this pressure, Jing Mei embarks on a quest to gain the right to not be spectacular and to be normal, gaining her own independence and sense of selfhood through the process of this quest

edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jing-Mei and her mother share a belief in Jing-Mei's ability to become a child prodigy while she is young. They watch Shirley Temple movies together and Jing-Mei agrees to her mother's haircuts and looks forward to her eventual fame.  When it becomes apparent that Jing-Mei does not have the combination of talent and drive to become a child prodigy, their relationship becomes strained. Each is strong-willed, but they move in opposing directions as Jing-Mei's mother increases the pressure to practice piano and Jing-Mei subverts her authority.  

The eventual showdown over the continuation of piano lessons after the disastrous recital is the breaking point in their relationship. Jing-Mei puts her foot down, and does so with cruelty as she takes a shot at her mother's abandonment of her children in China. Her anger after years of being pressured to become a success reaches a peak, and from this day onward, her mother remains in a quietly disappointed retreat. Like many mothers and daughters, they eventually make peace with one another. They do this, however, in a way in which neither completely abandons what they wished for; for Jing-Mei's mother it is for her to be a genius, while for Jing-Mei it is simply to be accepted for what she has accomplished.

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Two Kinds

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