Explain the plot from exposition to resolution for "Two Kinds" by Amy Tan. 

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Two Kinds” by Amy Tan details a conflict between a Chinese woman and her American-born daughter, Jing-mei. The setting for the story is Chinatown in San Jose, California. 


The protagonist of the story is a girl named Jing-mei. Her mother becomes the antagonist because of her insistence that Jing-mei find a hidden talent. 

Her mother wants Jing-mei to be successful and stand out in some respect. Initially, Jing-mei was excited about this idea as well. The conflict arises when Jing-mei tires of her mother’s insistence on testing her every night on various subjects.

Rising Action

Jing-mei decides that her mother will not change her. She is constantly disappointing her mother. Jing-mei confronts her mother and asks her why does she not like her just as she is. Her mother slaps her. 

Her mother decides that Jing-mei could be a piano prodigy.  An old man in the apartment complex is a retired piano teacher.  The mother will clean his apartment for lessons for Jing-mei. But Jing-mei quickly learns that the old man cannot hear. She pretends to practice and play. However, since the teacher cannot hear, she really just plays whatever she wants to.


The music teacher and her mother decide to enter Jing-mei in a talent show.  She has played it but has never really memorized or even listened to herself as she played it. Despite her lack of practice, Jing-mei is overconfident.  Since she did not know the music, her performance was a disaster.  She makes a fool of herself and embarrasses her mother. 

Her mother does not give up and expects her to continue practicing, but Jing-mei refuses to continue with the piano practice or lessons. 

She tells her mother that she wishes that she were dead.  Jing-mei knew exactly what to say to hurt her mother. Jing-mei's mother had other babies that died. After this confrontation, her mother gives up on her having a special talent.

Falling Action

Jing-mei goes forward through the years. She explains that she often disappointed her mother. Unlike her mother, she did not believe that a person could do anything that he wanted to. She and her mother never discussed the piano fiasco again. To spite her mother, she never did her best in anything.  Psychologically, the thing that hurt Jing-mei the most was that her mother gave up on her.

On her thirtieth birthday, the mother gives the piano to her daughter. Jing-mei asks if she would miss it.

'No, this your piano, she said firmly.  Always your piano.  Only one can play.  You pick up fast. You have natural talent. You could have been genius if you want to.  You just not trying,' said my mother. 


When her mother dies, Jing-mei has the piano tuned.  She goes to the parents’ apartment to help her father go through her mother’s things. She finds herself very sentimental about her mother and the things that she valued. 

Finally, Jing-mei sits down at the piano and looks at the piece that she was supposed to play at the talent show. She noticed that the piece on the right side of the page was called “Perfectly Contented.” On the other side was the piece that she attempted: “Pleading Child.”  She realizes that the two pieces are two parts of the same piece. The song symbolically represents Jing-mei's life.  If only her mother were there, she would tell her what she had learned.

Further Reading:
charlie101 | Student

piano gift-Two songs

omarforever | Student

well i thing this is the answer Jing Mei regards the piano as a "shiny trophy" because she has won it, but on her own terms, rather than through being forced to do something by her mother.