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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reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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. 

epollock | Student

Jing-Mei’s dominant characteristic is to make her own way as an independent person despite her origins as a Chinese-American. This leads her to the stubbornness, hardness, and even cruelty that she evidences in the story. The fact that she is telling the story at all, however, indicates the regret she feels at the way she responded to her mother. Paragraph 79 is worth classroom discussion in this regard, particularly  this sentence: "In the years that followed, I failed her so many times, each time asserting my own will, my right to fall short of expectations."

mylittlefriend69 | Student

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