As is often the case of children who are born of immigrants, the American-born child resists the imposition of cultural values from the "old country" that parents wish to impose. in "Two Kinds," Jing-mei locks herself into a struggle with her mother over her self-identity and becomes passively resistance to her mother's desire for her to be "a prodigy"; that is, a success at some skill. And, it is only after her mother's death that Jing-mei realizes that her mother simply wished for a respectful and dutiful daughter in the Chinese tradition.
In the years that followed, I failed her so many times, each time asserting my own will, my right to fall short of expectations.
This passage is intrinsic to the conflict between the Chinese mother and her Chinese-American daughter. However, at first she is complaisant and is "just as excited as [her] mother" about becoming a prodigy. For, she imagines that when she becomes perfect, her parents will love her even more--"adore me." However, after taking test after test, and Jing-mei begins to fail, she begins to assert her own will and decides that she will not "be what I'm not" because she resists failure in a passive way by not trying.
But, just as it seems that her mother starts to give up hope for Jing-mei's becoming a prodigy, one night Mother Woo watches a little Chinese girl playing the piano on the Ed Sullivan Show on the television; she calls to her daughter to watch. Then, three days later, Jing-mei is informed that she will begin piano lessons with Mr. Chong. Still, Jing-mei remains defiant:
"Why don't you like me the way I am?" I cried. "I'm not a genius! I can't play the piano. And even if I could, I wouldn't go on TV if you paid me a million dollars!"
Slapping her disrespectful daughter, the mother retorts that she does not want a genius, muttering to herself in Chinese about how ungrateful her daughter is. Jing-mei remains resistant, "determined not to try, not to be anybody different." Always, she fails to understand that in accord with her Chinese culture, the mother just wants a daughter to be proud of. It is only when she performs so badly at the recital and embarrasses herself and her parents that Jing-mei understands, "I felt the shame of my mother and father as they sat stiffly through the rest of the show." But, they do not let anyone else know their feelings as the sit stoically through the remainder of the performances.
Afterwards, Jing-mei observes her mother's expression: "a quiet blank look that said she had lost everything. I felt the same way." Nevertheless, the proud mother will not let her daughter settle for this defeat; instead, she tells the daughter after two days that she must practice the piano. Jing-mei screams," You want me to be something that I'm not!"
"Only two kinds of daughters," she [the mother] 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!"
Despite her mother's impassioned words, Jing-mei remains defiant, causing her mother to lose hope. Years pass; on her thirtieth birthday, Mother Woo gives her daughter the piano. Somehow, this offer makes Jing-mei feel proud, as though she has won back a trophy. After her mother dies, she has the piano tuned and turns to it. She finds Schumann's two pieces, "Pleading Child" and "Perfectly Contented." As she plays both melodies, she realizes that they are complementary. With her musical insight, Jing-mei recognizes truly the character of her mother as well as of herself and realizes that both songs of pleading and contentment are irreplaceable parts of life's journey. But, it was the unrealistic expectations demanded of her by her mother that effected Jing-mei's hostility and defiance.