What does Jing-mei say to defeat her mother in "Two Kinds"?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Jing-mei says she wishes she wasn’t her mother’s daughter and she was dead like her baby daughters.

We all say things we wish we didn’t say and don't mean, especially in the heat of argument.  This is definitely true in parent-child relationships, which can get very heated.  “Two Kinds” is the story of a mother and daughter who often have difficulty communicating, even though they love each.

Jing-mei wants to please her mother, and her mother wants what’s best for her daughter.  The keys to this story are in the first paragraphs.  First of all, the story starts with Jing-mei explaining to us how important the American dream is to her mother.

My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America. …You could become rich. You could become instantly famous.

One of the reasons it is so important to her is because she is an immigrant from China.  In China, she lost everything.  She had a very difficult childhood, but more important than this is what she left behind.

She had come to San Francisco in 1949 after losing everything in China: her mother and father, her home, her first husband, and two daughters, twin baby girls.

This is very important to understanding why Jing-mei’s mother is motivated as much as she is to help Jing-mei succeed.  She is not just trying to build a life in America; she is trying to ensure that her daughter has all of those opportunities she promised herself that America offered.

The twin daughters that she lost in China are the key.  What happened to them is not entirely clear.  The assumption is that they died, but it is not established.  Jing-mei at least assumes that they died at this point.  Either way, they are gone to Jing-mei’s mother.  They represent a former life and a past that is lost to her.

When Jing-mei attempts to become a prodigy and it does not work, she gets very frustrated.  She tells her mother that she can’t become something she isn’t, crying that she isn’t a “genius.”  Her mother tries to tell her that she is missing the point.

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!"

To Jing-mei’s mother, it was never about being a genius.  It was about learning the value of hard work, and becoming good at something so that you have something to show for it.  Jing-mei never really got that.  She never tried hard enough at anything to be good at it.

When Jing-mei really wants to hurt her mother, she knows that the baby girls in China are the way to go for it.  Her mother tells her there are only two kinds of daughters, the obedient ones and ones who “follow their own mind,” and she will only accept the former.  Jing-mei blows up.  She says she wishes she was not her mother’s daughter, and her mother says it is too late to change that.  Her mother is getting mad, but not mad enough.

And I could sense her anger rising to its breaking point. … And that's when I remembered the babies she had lost in China, the ones we never talked about. "Then I wish I'd never been born!" I shouted. "I wish I were dead! Like them." 

That does it.  Her mother is so hurt that she says nothing, but just walks out of the room “stunned” and “lifeless.”  It is a horrible thing to say, of course.  However, Jing-mei is unable to apologize.  It is not the relationship she has with her mother.  She feels she is just a series of disappointments.

Yet as an adult, she returns to the piano and it holds a sentimental value for her.  She does care about her mother.  She wants to keep it, and has it tuned.  She is still able to play.  Her mother is dead, and she misses her.

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