What does the piano represent and how does its symbolic meaning indicate a realization Jing-Mei has about her relationship with her mother in "Two Kinds"?  

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

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The piano represents June’s mother’s wish that her daughter succeed.  To June, her mother has unrealistic expectations that she be a prodigy, so the piano is a communication barrier between them.

In “Two Kinds” from The Joy Luck Club, June’s mother wants her to be a prodigy like Waverly, who plays chess.  She selects a variety of talents for June to try, but none of them stick. 

"Of course, you can be a prodigy, too," my mother told me when I was nine. "You can be best anything.” 

The piano teacher is deaf, so he assumes June is playing in tune—but she isn’t.   She is to play two songs “Pleading Child” and “Perfectly Contented.” At June’s recital, her mother is mortified by her bad playing.  Yet two days later her mother expects her to practice again.  June is confused.  She assumed she would never have to play the piano again.

"I'm not going to play anymore," I said nonchalantly. "Why should I? I'm not a genius."

Yet the bad playing is a direct result of the lack of communication between mother and daughter.  The piano is a barrier between them.  June and her mother cannot talk about her ability to play—or not play—the piano, and June’s mother never asks her what she wants and June never tells her.  June does not want to play the piano.  She does not try.

"You want me to be something that I'm not!" I sobbed. "I'll never be the kind of daughter you want me to be!"

Her mother tells her there are two kinds of daughters: obedient ones and “those who follow their own mind” and she will only accept the former.  It is not until June is older that she realizes that the two songs were two parts of the same song.  She has understood that the two daughters—the  obedient one and the independent one—are two parts of the same child.

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