In what places does humor occur in "Two Kinds"?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although the story is heartbreaking in a way, there is actually a lot of humor in “Two Kinds.”

The Chinese Shirley Temple

Jing-mei’s mother is so concerned with making her a prodigy that she is willing to try anything.  They watch Shirley Temple movies as though they are “training films.”

My mother would poke my arm and say, "Ni kan.You watch." And I would see Shirley tapping her feet, or singing a sailor song, or pursing her lips into a very round O while saying "Oh, my goodness."

Her mother's attempts to get Jing-mei a talent never seem to have anything to do with what the girl wants or can do. Imagining the mother and daughter watching, analyzing, and emulating Shirley Temple together has an element of the ridiculous to it, which injects humor into the story.

The Failed Attempts

The many failed attempts to make Jing-mei a prodigy are actually quite funny.  She tries to memorize the capitals of countries, passages from The Bible, and other tests.  Nothing sticks.

But sometimes the prodigy in me became impatient. "If you don't hurry up and get me out of here, I'm disappearing for good," it warned. "And then you'll always be nothing."

Eventually, Jing-mei will have had enough. Her mother, however, does not give up so easily. 

Mr. Chong

Jing-mei’s lessons with Mr. Chong are sad in some ways, but they are humorous too.  Mr. Chong can’t hear, so Jing-mei just plays whatever she wants and never really tries.

He taught me all these things, and that was how I also learned I could be lazy and get away with mistakes, lots of mistakes.

The time with Mr. Chong is not put to good use. Jing-mei could learn, but by now she does not want to. It's no surprise she slacks off when her piano teacher is deaf.

In these three instances, there are elements of ridiculousness and humor behind the tragedy of "Two Kinds."