In the novel Two Kinds by Amy Tan, what is symbolized by the Shirley Temple incident?

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sciftw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Whether intentional or not, the Shirley Temple section could be interpreted in two ways.

One way to look at the Shirley Temple incident is to see it as a coming of age story.  Jing-mei has had enough of her mother's pushing her to be something she is not.  The Shirley Temple incident involves Suyuan attempting to force Jing-mei into being a child prodigy like Shirley Temple.  Beautiful, smart, well spoken, amazing musician, etc.  You name it, Suyuan pushed her daughter to be brilliant, and Jing-mei intentionally subverted all of those attempts.  She knew who she was and what she was capable of.  By the end of the incident, Jing-mei has gained the confidence to tell Suyuan that she will not be the person that her mother wants her to be.  It's definitely a moment of growth and independence for Jing-mei.

On the other hand, the Shirley Temple incident also represents a break in and disintegration of Jing-mei's and Suyuan's relationship with each other.  Jing-mei even tells her mom that she would rather be dead than be Suyuan's daughter.  While their relationship wasn't as heated as that argument all of the time, Jing-mei and Suyuan didn't forgive each other for the incident until Jing-mei was 30 years old.