With respect to Amy Tan's short story Two Kinds, what do you like and dislike about Jing-mei? and why? How does the author make you arrive at your conclusion? What are her feelings for Jing-mei? Are you able to identify with her feelings? How so or why not?
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There is nothing in Amy Tan’s short story Two Kinds that warrants dislike for the protagonist, Jing-mei. A nine-year-old girl subjected to unreasonable pressures and expectations by her mother is very likely to grow up with deep-seated psychological issues. For Jing-mei, those pressures and expectations were thoroughly unrealistic, and took a heavy emotional toll on girl and mother alike. Jing-mei’s mother, heavily influenced by ideals regarding the American Dream, the rigid family structures common to individuals of her origins, and the inordinately heavy emotional baggage she carried deep inside her – the abandonment of her twin babies in China – acted in the only way she could conceive: that of the so-called “tiger mother,” a phrase popularized by Amy Chua’s 2011 memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. As Tan’s protagonist describes the determination with which the mother in her story studied Shirley Temple films as models for her daughter, “We'd watch Shirley's old movies on TV as though they were training films.” And, as Jing-mei continues in her narration, “(a)t first my mother thought I could be a Chinese Shirley Temple.” A child growing up with sentiments is unlikely to be entirely without resentments regarding that upbringing.
Jing-mei’s comments continue to evoke sympathy. No nine- or ten-year-old girl should be forced to experience the kind of revelations forced upon Jing-mei. In just one of several particularly poignant passages, Jing-mei describes the disappointment with which mother ritually viewed daughter:
“And after seeing, once again, my mother's disappointed face, something inside me began to die. I hated the tests, the raised hopes and failed expectations. Before going to bed that night I looked in the mirror above the bathroom sink, and I saw only my face staring back - and understood that it would always be this ordinary face - I began to cry. Such a sad, ugly girl!”
And, following Jing-mei’s lackluster response to compulsive piano lessons with an elderly, deaf instructor, Tan’s protagonist again expresses her sadness in her inability to live up to her mother’s expectations:
"Why don't you like me the way I am?" I cried. "I'm not a genius! I can't play the piano. And even if I could, I wouldn't go on TV if you paid me a million dollars!"
“My mother slapped me. ‘Who ask you to be genius?’ she shouted. ‘Only ask you be your best. For you sake. You think I want you to be genius? Hnnh! What for! Who ask you!’? ‘So ungrateful,’ I heard her mutter in Chinese . . .”
Finally, how can one not sympathize with a young girl forced to perform publicly when entirely lacking in confidence and, quite possibly, ability. Describing her mother’s reaction following Jing-mei’s thoroughly flawed performance at the piano recital:
“But my mother's expression was what devastated me: a quiet, blank look that said she had lost everything. I felt the same way, and everybody seemed now to be coming up, like gawkers at the scene of an accident to see what parts were actually missing. When we got on the bus to go home, my father was humming the busy-bee tune and my mother kept silent. I kept thinking she wanted to wait until we got home before shouting at me. But when my father unlocked the door to our apartment, my mother walked in and went straight to the back, into the bedroom. No accusations, No blame. And in a way, I felt disappointed. I had been waiting for her to start shouting, so that I could shout back and cry and blame her for all my misery.”
Jing-mei’s mother is not a monster; on the contrary, she is a devoted mother who no doubt loves her daughter very deeply. Anyone who has been raised by particularly demanding parents, however, will carry some degree of emotional baggage through life. Therapists send their offspring through college on the profits from such emotionally-scarred patients. When Jing-mei cries, "You want me to be something that I'm not! . . .I'll never be the kind of daughter you want me to be,” the reader cannot help but feel for this child. But Jing-mei’s mother is a product of her own upbringing and of the culture in which she spent her formative years. She survived war-torn China, escaping only through the desperate act of abandoning all those she held dear, including those babies. One can feel the dagger through the mother’s heart when Jing-mei declares, in reference to those babies, “I wish I were dead! Like them.”
Can the reader identify with the mother in Two Kinds? Yes, depending upon one’s own personal experiences and observations. As Tan concludes her story, her narrator/protagonist notes that her outburst regarding her wish to be dead will hang throughout the remainder of her mother’s years like the proverbial elephant in the room – never spoken of, but present all the same. The story, of course, concludes with Jing-mei’s reflections regarding her mother and the enduring pain lingering from their relationship. The questions never asked, the discussion never held, will live with Jing-mei forever. It is impossible not feel for both mother and daughter. They certainly loved each other, but, as with many dysfunctional families, they will never be able to show it until it’s too late.
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