What does Suyuan give Jing-mei in "Two Kinds" by Amy Tan?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the story "Two Kinds," Jing-mei and her mother have a conflicted relationship because Jing-mei's mother tries to turn her into a prodigy. Although Jing-mei initially complies with her mother's efforts, she soon discovers she cannot live up to her mother's demands. The sticking point becomes piano playing. Jing-mei's mother is sure her daughter has enough natural talent to be a prodigy — if she only wanted to be one and if she would try. Jing-mei thinks her mother doesn't like her the way she is and that her mother wants to change her into something she's not. Jing-mei only half-heartedly learns to play the piano, and when she embarrasses herself at a recital, she refuses to keep practicing. This leads to a heated confrontation, after which Jing-mei's mother never asks her daughter to play piano again. It's poignant, then, that on Jing-mei's thirtieth birthday, her mother offers to give her the piano as a birthday present. Jing-mei doesn't take the piano at first, but she is moved that her mother would offer it to her. After her mother's death, Jing-mei has the piano tuned and tries playing the piece that she tripped up on at the recital, and finds she is able to play fairly easily, suggesting Jing-mei actually did have talent when she was younger, but chose not to use it as a way of asserting her will over her mother's. 

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Two Kinds," Suyuan gives her daughter, Jing-Mei, a piano. This gift comes about one year after Jing-Mei has started taking piano lessons from her neighbor, Mr. Chong. Jing-Mei had no real interest in learning to play the piano; it was, in fact, an ambition of her mother's who was determined to turn her daughter into a "child prodigy."

We should view the gift of the piano, then, as symbolic of Suyuan's aspirations for her daughter. She hopes that Jing-Mei will win an upcoming talent contest but, in fact, she pressures her daughter so much that the pair argue and she never plays the piano in her childhood again. It is not until her adult years, after the death of her mother, that Jing-Mei returns to the piano. Clearly, then, this gift was bittersweet: her mother meant well by encouraging Jing-Mei to master the piano, but the manner of her expression caused serious conflict between the two women.

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Two Kinds

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