Describe How Jing-mei's Character Traits Change Or Stay The Same Throughout The Story. What Are Her Motivations? What Conflicts Lead To Her Character Traits?

In "Two Kinds", what are Jing-Mei's characteristics?

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In “Two Kinds ,” the narrator Jing-mei’s character is dynamic, evolving as she goes through life. It is particularly interesting to view the evolution of Jing-mei’s characteristics in the context of her identity as an American woman of Chinese origin. As the story begins, Jing-mei is an affable, agreeable...

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In “Two Kinds,” the narrator Jing-mei’s character is dynamic, evolving as she goes through life. It is particularly interesting to view the evolution of Jing-mei’s characteristics in the context of her identity as an American woman of Chinese origin. As the story begins, Jing-mei is an affable, agreeable child who wants to make her ambitious mother proud by adopting different persona, from a “Chinese Shirley Temple” to a precocious magician who can find the Queen in any deck of cards, to a piano-playing prodigy. Jing-mei’s mother wants her to be perfect so she can succeed in American society. However, as time goes on, Jing-mei begins to realize that what she wants for herself is very different from her mother’s expectations.

I looked at my reflection, blinking so that I could see more clearly. The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful. She and I were the same. I had new thoughts, willful thoughtsor rather, thoughts filled with lots of won'ts. I won't let her change me, I promised myself. I won't be what I'm not.

Thus, the conflict between her mother's expectations and her own sense of self begins to form Jing-mei's character traits. From agreeableness, Jing-mei moves to willfulness, a change which is partially informed by her need to distinguish her American identity from her Chinese self. As represented by her mother’s expectations, tradition begins to symbolize a blind obedience, and a stifling of the self for the community, which Jing-mei is now loath to do. Jing-mei begins to resist her mother's expectations to form her unique, individual self, even if it means disappointing her mother by abandoning the piano and not “getting straight A’s.”

However, as she turns thirty and older, Jing-mei’s relationship with her mother improves somewhat, suggesting that Jing-mei needs to find a cathartic way to reconnect with her mother, and by extension holistically reconcile her selves as an American woman and a Chinese daughter.

Visiting her home after her mother’s death, Jing-mei comes across the old piano she was once forced to practice. The piano, symbolic so far of the weight of her mother’s expectations and Jing-mei’s own failures, now gains another meaning. Jing-mei no longer fears the piano, choosing instead to sit in front of it, open its lid and touch the keys.

It sounded even richer that I remembered. Really, it was a very good piano…. I played a few bars, surprised at how easily the notes came back to me.

Thus, Jing-mei finally grows into “two kinds” of identities, accepting that her American and Chinese selves are a part of each other, much as her mother will always be a part of her, like “two halves of the same song.” Thus, Jing-mei comes full circle, growing into forgiveness and grace.

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In Amy Tan's short story "Two Kinds" that was published in the book The Joy Luck Club, Jing-mei Woo is the first person narrator describing her childhood, her mother's dreams, and recollecting those dreams as an adult.

Jing-mei's mother has dreams that anything is possible in America. She attempts to impose those dreams on her daughter. In fact, she believes her daughter can be a prodigy. At first, Jing-mei believes in these impossible dreams. Her mother prods her into believing she can be a "Chinese Shirley Temple." Next, after her hair cut, she looks more like Peter Pan with a bad hair cut. At this point, Jing-mei is an obedient daughter almost believing she could be a prodigy. She fantasizes about becoming a ballerina, a Christ child and Cinderella. She says, "In all of my imaginings I was filled with a sense that I would soon become perfect."

However, the turning point comes when her mother starts quizzing her, and Jing-mei finally rebels. Her character changes from an obedient to willful daughter. As she looks into the mirror she recognizes her new "thoughts filled with lots of won'ts. I won't let her change me, I promised myself. I won't be what I'm not" (paragraph 4). This is the turning point in the story. Jing-mei decides to be herself, and this becomes the conflict between mother and daughter as Jing-mei struggles to establish her own identity.

After the failure of the piano lessons and Jing-mei's embarrassment at the talent show, her mother still wants Jing-mei to be obedient. However, it is too late for obedience when in a rage, Jing-mei screams at her mother, wishing she had never been born. For years, Jing-mei doesn't live up to her mother's dreams, yet her mother never gives up hope. However, Jing-mei knows that she can only be herself, and that person is neither talented nor a prodigy.

It is only after her mother's death that Jing-mei finally understands the two aspects of her personality symbolized by the old sheet music she finds at the piano: "Perfectly Contented" and "Pleading Child." Thus, as an adult, Jing-mei finally recognizes these two sides of her are one and the same.

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Concerning Jing-Mei in Amy Tan's "Two Kinds," the enotes Study Guide on the story says the following about her:

Jing-Mei is a rebellious child caught between two cultures: the Chinese culture that prevails in her mother's home; and the American one that prevails everywhere else. She resists her mother's attempts at discipline and resents the pressures of high achievement that immigrant parents typically place on their children.

She also understands that her mother is using her to win a competition with her friend Lindo Jong; both women brag about whose daughter is more talented. She is resolved to be true to herself and not take part in such a competition. Refusing to practice the piano, she tells her mother that she wishes she were dead, like the babies she knows her mother was forced to abandon when she fled China. She regrets saying such hurtful things later.

It is important to remember that Jing-Mei is the child in the relationship between her and her mother.  She does not dictate the terms of the relationship.  The absolutism and unrealistic expectations the mother places upon her determine the nature of the hostility between them. 

Jing-Mei, in fact, is a normal, American adolescent.  And she's smart enough to recognize the faults in her mother's plans for her.  Her mother tries to live vicariously through her, and Jing-Mei will have none of it. 

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