What does the piano represent in "Two Kinds"?
In "Two Kinds," the piano represents a type of trophy. Jing-mei's mother has a desire to make her daughter into something she is not. Also, the piano represents the struggle between a mother and daughter. Jing-Mei does not desire to play the piano. Her mother is determined that she will play like a star child prodigy she has seen on television:
This particular struggle invokes the mother's attempt to mold her daughter, Jing-mei, into a musical prodigy so that she will be able to brag to her friend Lindo Jong, whose daughter is a precocious chess champion.
For years, Jing-Mei and her mother struggle because her mother is so determined to make her daughter into something she is not. Jing-Mei's mother desires to have bragging rights in a type of competition with Lindo's daughter who is a chess champion.
The piano recital is Jing-Mei's chess board. The piano is a type of trophy that Jing-Mei's mother can have as a symbol of her daughter's accomplishment. In much the same way that Lindo brags over her daughter's chess trophies, Jing-Mei's mother desires to boast about her daughter's musical trophies.
The piano represents the American Dream to the mother in "Two Kinds." The story begins, "My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America." She believes that with hard work, her daughter can become something great. After trying out several ways to make her daughter into a prodigy, the mother decides that her daughter will be a piano prodigy. Although the family does not have a piano, the mother trades housecleaning for piano lessons with the downstairs neighbor, Mr. Chong. She believes that with daily two-hour lessons, her daughter can achieve musical greatness at the piano. However, the daughter is lazy and realizes that Mr. Chong is deaf, so she never really applies herself to her lessons. Even after the daughter performs badly at a recital, the mother believes that with hard work, the daughter can still achieve greatness (though the daughter decides to give up playing the piano). In this sense, the piano stands for the promise of America and the American Dream—that if you try hard enough, success will be yours.
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