What are examples of direct and indirect characterization in "Two Kinds"?

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Jing-mei's mother is directly characterized as the story opens and information about her past is provided. She is indirectly characterized after the talent show, highlighting the resolute strength of her character.

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Jing-mei, the narrator of this story, directly characterizes her mother as the story opens:

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.

The reader thus learns a great deal about her mother's background that directly impacts the conflict between Jing-mei and her mother. Jing-mei's mother is an immigrant, having moved to America from China. She settled in California after suffering great losses. Particularly painful in this passage is the realization that Jing-mei's mother has lost two young daughters. Regardless of this incredible tragedy, her mother steadfastly looks forward, never regretting the past and what she has left behind. It is with this same spirit that she encourages Jing-mei's success.

After Jing-mei's "talent-show fiasco," her mother learns that Jing-mei has wasted time, tricking both her and Mr. Chong into believing that she has practiced the piano with earnest effort. Jing-mei believes that her mother will thus relinquish the idea that she can become a piano prodigy but is shocked when two days later, her mother appears to remind Jing-mei of her piano lesson after school. Her mother makes this announcement "as if it were any other day." This indirect characterization reveals that Jing-mei's mother is both forgiving and resolute. She is willing to forgive her daughter's deception to continue encouraging Jing-mei's efforts. She is also determined for Jing-mei to become the success that her mother believes she is capable of becoming.

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The narrator, Jing-mei, is indirectly characterized by her own descriptions of the feelings she experienced as a child. When she was little, she very much wanted to meet her parents' expectations, to make them proud. She says,

In all of my imaginings I was filled with a sense that I would soon become perfect: My mother and father would adore me. I would be beyond reproach. I would never feel the need to sulk, or to clamor for anything.

However, she also experiences some self-doubt. She says, as the prodigy that she hopes lies somewhere within herself, "If you don't hurry up and get me out of here, I'm disappearing for good . . . And then you'll always be nothing." If she is unable to tap into that inner "prodigy," Jing-mei feels that she will be so insignificant she is literally "nothing." So, when her mother can't find a subject at which she can excel, she begins to grow resentful of her mother.

Soon, though, this self-doubt turns to something resembling empowerment and willfulness. Jing-mei says, using direct characterization now,

The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful. She and I were the same. I had new thoughts, willful thoughts—or rather, thoughts filled with lots of won'ts. I won't let her change me, I promised myself.

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Amy Tan uses direct characterization when the narrator describes herself.  Direct characterization occurs when the reader receives description of the character explicitly.  An example of direct characterization is seen when Jing-mei describes her initial excitement at the thought of being a child prodigy:

"I was like the Christ child lifted out of the straw manger, crying with holy indignity. I was Cinderella stepping from her pumpkin carriage with sparkly cartoon music filling the air."

In this quotation, Jing-mei describes herself directly, telling us explicitly what she was like as a child: excited by her own promise.

Tan also uses indirect characterization in shaping Jing-mei.  Indirect characterization reveals a character's traits through actions, speech, or appearance.  When Jing-mei is taking piano lessons from Mr. Chong, she quickly discovers that he does not hear well and is really only able to tell if she is keeping time with the music, not playing the correct notes. She describes how she takes advantage of his inattention to play sloppily.  In describing Jing-mei's actions at her piano lessons, Tan is able to reveal that Jing-mei is intelligent and rather devious.  

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Direct characterization occurs when the narrator of a story tells the audience what a character is like. A character in the story may state the direct characterization as well.  In "Two Kinds," Jing-mei is the narrator of the story, and there are several times when she directly describes what her mother is like.  The opening paragraph is a good place to look. 

My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America.

The quote directly tells readers about a basic belief that Suyuan has.  

Indirect characterization occurs when an author shows readers what kind of person a character is through that character’s thoughts, words, and deeds. Indirect characterization requires readers to make inferences about why a character would behave in a particular manner.  

In "Two Kinds," I would describe Jing-mei as stubborn, a description I came up with by looking to examples of indirect characterization. The narrator of this story, Jing-mei, is never explicitly described as stubborn; however, her constant refusal to work toward the child prodigy goal shows that she is.

"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!"


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