The main source of conflict between Jing-mei and her mother is the piano, and the fact that Jing-mei has not special talent, and Jing-mei’s mother wants her to be someone she’s not.
Jing-mei’s mother decides she needs to be a prodigy when she is about eight years old. As Jing-mei states, they “didn't immediately pick the right kind of prodigy” and she had to try several different talents, none of which she was any good at. Then, her mother traded housekeeping for piano lessons and practice, and Jing-mei was going to be a piano prodigy.
Jing-mei did not take to the piano well. She objected because she did not want to be made into someone she was not.
But I was so determined not to try, not to be anybody different, and I learned to play only the most ear-splitting preludes, the most discordant hymns.
Jing-mei practices without practicing for an entire year before she has a recital and everyone finds out she can’t play. She expects her mother to give up, but her mother does not. She drags her to the piano bench and tells her that the only kind of daughter that can live in her house is an obedient daughter.
Although the main conflict here is Jing-mei’s mother’s desire to make her into a piano player, there are many factors at work. There is the conflict between American and Chinese values, as Jing-mei wants to make her own choices and her mother wants to make them for her and expects her to dutifully go on. There is the inevitable conflict between mother and daughter. There is also the conflict between the American dream of universal success, and the reality that we sometimes fail.