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Understanding people’s pasts is important to understanding what they do.
Jing-mei’s mother came to America in search of a better life. In China, one of the hardest things she had to give up was two daughters.
She had come to San Francisco in 1949 after losing everything in China: her mother and father, her home, her first husband, and two daughters, twin baby girls. But she never looked back with regret. Things could get better in so many ways.
As you read the story, you can see how her interaction with Jing-mei is influenced both by her life in China and the loss of those daughters. The story begins with Jing-mei quoting her mother’s philosophy that America is the land of opportunity. For Jing-mei’s mother, that had to be the case. She gave up so much to come to America that her other children had to have a better life. It explains her behavior in pushing Jing-mei to be a prodigy, and her belief that if she is one, it will be her ticket to prosperity.
Sometimes we appreciate the gifts our parents give us only much later in life.
Jing-mei is writing this story as a reflection from an adult’s perspective. She tells about how she has found the piano in her parent’s apartment. Her mother had asked her to take it, and she hadn’t wanted it until after her mother had died.
Last week I sent a tuner over to my parent's apartment and had the piano reconditioned, for purely sentimental reasons. My mother had died a few months before and I had been getting things in order for my father a little bit at a time.
Now, the piano was sentimental. It is not the piano though. It is what it represents.
Jing-mei now looks back on the experience of learning to play the piano in a positive light, as a childhood memory that she connects with her mother, because she misses her. She may not have enjoyed all aspects of the journey, but she appreciates some of the things she learned from her mother.
Most parents push their children because they want them to have opportunities.
At first, Jing-mei was not completely against the idea of being a prodigy. It is an alluring possibility for a little girl. However, she doesn’t seem to have any natural talent, and learning any activity is hard work. It soon leads to blow-ups with her mother. She insists she is not a genius.
"Why don't you like me the way I am?" I cried. "I'm not a genius!...
My mother slapped me. "Who ask you to be genius?" she shouted. "Only ask you be your best. For you sake. You think I want you to be genius? Hnnh! What for! Who ask you!"
This is a telling conversation. Her mother says she just wants her to try. She doesn't expect her to be a genius, but she is asking for effort and hard work.
Her mother does not give up. She continues, specifically with the piano lessons. Unfortunately, they can’t afford the best piano teacher and it results in disaster because Jing-mei does not put genuine effort in.
The adult Jing-mei realizes that her mother just wanted her to have the opportunity to learn the piano, to better herself, and she should have just taken advantage of it.
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