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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator
  • Theme of Mother/Daughter Relationship

It is only after her mother's death that Jing-mei notices in the songbook for her piano that one side has the song "Pleading Child" while the other side has a song entitled, "Perfectly Contented." About two aspects of the same child, these songs demonstrate the theme of conflicts between mothers and daughters. While the mothers were born in China and have the old country's beliefs and ways, the daughters are American-born and, thus, do not understand the old culture.

Because her mother believes Jing-mei should excel in something, she has decided that her daughter will learn to play the piano and contracts with old Mr. Chong a deaf retired piano teacher. Besides being deaf, Mr. Chong has poor eyesight, so he cannot even tell if Jing-mei is playing the correct keys. Consequently, the child does not worry about practicing. Then, hearing her mother's declarations that she will be a prodigy, the daughter begins to believe she can be one without working. Sadly, at a recital, Jing-mei plays poorly and embarrasses her mother before friends and relatives. After this fiasco, Jing-mei assumes that her mother will let her stop her piano lessons. But, when she asks why she cannot quit, she receives this answer, 

"Only two kinds of daughters," she shouted in Chinese. "Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!"

"Then I wish I'd never been born!" I shouted. “I wish I were dead! Like them." It was as if I had said magic words. Alakazam!-her face went blank, her mouth closed.

This ended the playing of the piano. But, when she turned thirty, her mother offered Jing-mei the piano as an act of forgiveness. After her mother dies, Jing-mei opens the two-part song and plays the piano again in understanding.