What is the metaphor in "Two Kinds" by Amy Tan?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator refers to "the prodigy in [her]" as a child when she imagined all the possibilities for her fame-filled, glorious future, possibilities fed by her mother's urging and insistence.  This prodigy becomes a metaphor for the narrator's inner feelings.  However, the more her mother tested her, the more she failed: naming capitals, doing multiplication tables, saying everything she remembered from a page in the Bible, and so on.  She began to feel that "something inside [her] began to die" because of all the disappointment she so clearly saw on her mother's face.

Soon, she looks in the mirror and feels as though she can see the prodigy's reflection, and "The girl staring back at [her] was angry, powerful. . . . [She] had new thoughts, willful thoughts—or rather, thoughts filled with lots of won'ts."  It is not a prodigy inside her; rather, the prodigy is a metaphor for her feelings of rebellion.  She learned to fight back against her mother, to be disobedient, and do what she wanted, instead of what her mother told her to do.  As the years pass, this rebel "assert[s] [her] will, [her] right to fall short of expectations."  Even though she might have been a pretty good piano player, it was more important to not try, "not to be anybody different."  It turns out, then, that she really is a prodigy, a prodigy of rebellion!  She practices and practices, and eventually wins the trophy of the piano, a testament to her powerful will.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Let us remind ourselves that a metaphor is a piece of figurative language that compares one object to something else by asserting a direct comparison, without using the words "like" or "as." The most important metaphor in this story about the conflict between a mother and her daughter actually comes towards the end of the text, when Jing-Mei's mother gives the piano to her daughter in spite of the many disappointments she has caused her mother. Having asserted her "right" to "fall short of expectations," Jing-Mei sees this gift as a sign of acceptance of who she is and who she has become from a mother who has always appeared to want her to be more than she is. Note how the piano is described:

And after that, every time I saw it in my parents' living room, standign in front of the bay windows, it made me feel proud, as if it were a shiny trophy I had won back.

Now how the piano is described as a "shiny trophy." Jing-Mei obviously feels that she can use this metaphor to describe the piano this way because she believes she has won this trophy on her own terms and has not conformed to her mother's crippling expectations for her.