Illustration of the profiles of a young woman and an older woman facting away from each other

The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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Two Kinds Summary

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Jing-mei Woo recalls that her mother believed that in America a person could be anything, even a prodigy. She had lost everything back in China, but her hopes remained high. Things could always get better.

Jing-mei’s narrative looks back to the days when her mother was certain she could be the next Shirley Temple. At first, Jing-mei was excited to try. Her mother tested her every night, basing her quizzes on children she had read about in magazines. But Jing-mei was not good at naming capital cities or multiplication or standing on her head, and she soon tired of her mother’s efforts. She decided that she would not be a prodigy. She would be exactly who she was, and that was enough. Soon the tests faded.

Then one evening, Jing-mei’s mother sees a little girl playing piano on The Ed Sullivan Show and decides that piano playing will be Jing-mei’s new talent. She arranges for piano lessons from Mr. Chong in the downstairs apartment and for the use of a piano. Jing-mei resists but must take the lessons anyway. Mr. Chong is not a good teacher because he is mostly deaf. He does not even hear most of Jing-mei’s mistakes. And Jing-mei makes many mistakes because she is lazy and determined not to try to learn the piano.

Jing-mei’s mother brags to Auntie Lindo about Jing-mei’s piano talent and then enters her daughter in a talent show. Jing-mei is far more interested in her new dress and her ability to curtsy than in playing her piece properly. When her turn comes, she hits one wrong note followed by another through the entire song. Only Mr. Chong yells, “Bravo!” Everyone else claps weakly. Jing-mei’s mother says nothing to her, but her expression is blank.

Jing-mei thinks that her piano playing days are over, but two days later, her mother tells her that it is time for her piano practice. Jing-mei refuses and exclaims, “I’ll never be the kind of daughter you want me to be!” Then she says she wishes she were not her mother’s daughter. When, in anger, she mentions her lost sisters, her mother leaves the room looking stunned.

Over the years, Jing-mei has disappointed her mother many times, but they never talked about the piano until her mother gave her the instrument for her thirtieth birthday. After her mother’s death, Jing-mei has the piano tuned and sits down to play it once again. She plays her talent show piece, “Pleading Child,” and is surprised that she can still find the notes. Then she discovers another piece, “Perfectly Contented,” on the back of the music sheet and realizes that they are really “two halves of the same song.”

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