In "Two Kinds," what happens when Jing-mei plays the piano in front of an audience?
Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club contains repeated reflections upon the generational gap between the Chinese parents and their American-born children. All the mothers are disappointed in their Americanized daughter. Waverly Jong, for instance, thinks that she has learned so much about chess on her own; she does not credit her old teacher, Lao Po, nor her mother who worked so that she could have lessons. Then, underscoring the theme of heritage in which Mrs. Jong takes credit for her daughter's talents at chess, Mrs. Jong's pride is fed by the successes of her daughter.
In a like manner, Mrs. Woo desires this same pride of being the mother of a very talented daughter. First, she tries to mold her daughter into a child actress, but this attempt fails; further, Mrs. Woo has Jing-mei take intelligence tests, but the daughter is not promising; finally, Mrs. Woo decides that Jing-mei will play the piano well; in order to pay for lessons, she works as a maid in return for these lessons from Mr. Chong an elderly piano teacher, who no longer sees well enough to know whether Jing-mei is striking the keys. Before the recital, Jing-mei thwarts her mother's intentions by not practicing,despite knowing how much her mother has sacrificed. So, on the night of the recital, Jing-mei's performance is very poor and she brings shame upon herself and her mother.
At home her mother expresses her disappointment in Jing-mei, but Jing-mei cruelly alludes to the daughters Mrs. Woo had to leave behind in China. Jing-mei remarks after defying her mother and alluding to her lost, dead sisters,
...and I now felt stronger, as if my true self had finally emerged. So this was what had been inside me all along.
Further, an older Jing-mei observes,
In the years that followed, I failed her so many times, each time asserting my own will, my right to fall short of expectations. . . . For unlike my mother, I did not believe I could be anything I wanted to be. I could only be me.
Jing-mei is American; she desires to make something of herself, but on her own terms. She rejects traditional behavior and goals, and she brings embarrassment upon her mother.
In Amy Tan's "Two Kinds," Jing-mei fails miserably to perform in front of an audience. She was more focused on her looks and did not practice well. She starts with one bad note followed by another and then another. She thought that by some magic errors will be corrected and she will play well, but her piano performance proved to be a complete disaster.
Jing-mei's mother felt embarrassed by her daughter's poor performance, but on the other hand, Jing-mei feels a bit relieved knowing that her mother now knows that she is not a 'prodigy', so there is no pressure on her to keep up with the expectations. The mother wanted her daughter to excel and pushed her to the limits, that made Jing-mei a rebel. However, at the end of the story (almost thirty years later) Jing-mei realizes her mother's best intention.