Please describe Jing Mei's mother's character in "Two Kinds".

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martyweis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jing-mei’s mother, we learn in the opening paragraph of “Two Kinds,” believes in the American Dream. Her version of the American Dream—we learn over the course of the story—is the product of popular culture. As such, its burden is placed on her daughter.

Although the mother ultimately decides that Jing-mei should develop her genius as a master pianist, when the story begins the mother is still considering different routes for success. Jing-mei’s mother left behind her life and her first family in China to come to the United States, and she sees her new life in and through her daughter. For the mother, the question is not whether Jing-mei will be a prodigy; instead, it is a matter of what kind of prodigy she will be. The mother is heavily influenced by the cultural narratives around her, and she forces her daughter to study old Shirley Temple movies. Ultimately they settle on the piano because they see a young Chinese girl who looks like Jing-mei on television. This reveals that her mother is susceptible to various cultural representations.

Jing-mei’s mother is certainly demanding, and we get the sense that her demands are balanced by the sacrifices that she has made. She demands that Jing-mei practice the piano, but even more than this she demands obedience:

“Only two kinds of daughters," she shouted in Chinese. "Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!”

She views her daughter as an extension of herself, and as such, demands her obedience because she believes it is the most direct route to a happy life.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The mother in Amy Tan's, "Two Kinds," is an immigrant who wholeheartedly embraces the American Dream.  She can't live it herself, so she tries to force her daughter to live it for her.

She tries to coerce her daughter into becoming a child prodigy:  she wants a superstar for a daughter.  She doesn't care what her daughter becomes famous for, she just wants her to become famous.  She sets impossible goals for her daughter based on American TV.

Her abrasive methods backfire, of course, and Jing-Mei rebels.

Perhaps most telling, the mother sees the world in a simplistic manner, telling her daughter that there are only two kinds of daughters, ones who obey absolutely everything a parent says, and ones who don't.  This is simplistic, as well as sexist, of course.  The world is not that simple, and can't be divided into two clear, black and white, dichotomies, or parts.  The mother wants Jing-Mei to know her place, a woman's place, like she, herself, apparently does.  

epollock | Student

Jing-Mei’s mother has had an immensely difficult life, having been dispossessed not only of her native country but also of her two earlier babies. In this respect she is worthy of sympathy. It is natural that she would want to make up her losses through Jing-Mei. We are given only an objective view of the mother, however, even in paragraph 78, where her deepest feelings are described. Much is to be inferred from this paragraph. Although Jing Mei does not express regret about the violence of her childhood feelings, her memories indicate that at the story’s end she has been emotionally reconciled with her mother.