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Jing-Mei's rejection of becoming a prodigy in "Two Kinds."

Summary:

Jing-Mei rejects becoming a prodigy in "Two Kinds" because she feels overwhelmed by her mother's high expectations and constant pressure to excel. This leads to a rebellious attitude, causing her to resist her mother's efforts and ultimately reject the idea of living up to an unrealistic standard.

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Why doesn't Jing-Mei want to be a prodigy in "Two Kinds"?

In Amy Tan’s story “Two Kinds” Jing-Mei changes her mind about being prodigy. A prodigy is a person, most often a child, who has abnormally high ability in a specific area such as music or mathematics. This talent is usually considered to be an innate ability that is perfected by practice.

Jing-Mei’s mother, Suyuan Woo, believes in America you can be anything including a prodigy. At first Jing-Mei agrees with her mother, and the two spend hours examining magazines and watching television shows to determine her area of expertise. Finally, after seeing another child on the Ed Sullivan show, the mother decides that Jing-Mei should be a prodigy on the piano.  Suyuan Woo acquires a used piano and an inept teacher, and plans a practice schedule for her daughter. Unfortunately, Jing-Mei is not a prodigy on the piano and she is not interested in practicing, therefore, she barely becomes proficient.

Jing-Mei is aware that she is not prodigy material. Jing-Mei just wants to be herself, and after a disastrous piano recital, the mother and daughter quarrel.  Jing-Mei, asserts her independence as she progresses through school as a mediocre student who goes on to live life her way, not the way her mother intended it to be. She is determined to develop her own identity. Instead of being a prodigy, she wants to be an individual, not a replacement for the life her mother left behind in China.

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Why does Jing-mei reject becoming a prodigy in "Two Kinds"?

At first, when Jing-mei's mother begins the search for the field in which her daughter would excel, she is "just as excited as [her] mother, maybe even more so." She imagines herself as a ballerina, the Christ child, and Cinderella, and she feels that she "would soon become perfect." She would be adored by all, "beyond reproach," and she would always feel happy and content within herself. However, the more her mother tests her, the more things they try, the more Jing-mei begins to feel that "something inside [her] began to die." She hates disappointing her mother, and she hates feeling like a let down. She looks in the mirror one night and sees her "ordinary face," understanding that she would always be ordinary, and she cries and wails and screams. In this moment, in her wildness, she sees "what seemed to be the prodigy" inside herself; she is "angry, powerful," and she begins to become more willful. She promises herself, "I won't be what I'm not." From then on, she pretends to be bored, and her mother finally begins to "give up hope." So, it isn't necessarily that Jing-mei gives up on being a prodigy, but she feels that she's found what she was good at: being willful and inflexible. She could excel here, and so she pursues it instead of the other somewhat more constructive pursuits her mother chooses.

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Why does Jing-mei reject becoming a prodigy in "Two Kinds"?

The fact is that Jing-Mei never really wanted to become a prodigy in the first place; she just wanted to please her pushy mother. Jing-Mei's mother, Suyuan Woo, is obsessed with the idea that America is a land where anything can happen, a place where children from poor immigrant backgrounds can achieve fame and fortune as prodigies. Like a lot of parents who drive on their kids to become successful, she's trying to compensate for the deficiencies of her own childhood.

Unfortunately for Suyuan Woo, Jing-Mei knows from the get-go that she's not prodigy material, no matter how hard her mother drives her on to succeed. Jing-Mei wants to be herself; she wants to live her life her own way without her mother's constant interference. In short, Jing-Mei's growing up, and like many young people her age, feels the need to assert her individuality.

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Why does Jing-mei reject becoming a prodigy in "Two Kinds"?

In the beginning of the story, Jing-mei is excited about being a prodigy.  However, when she does not seem to have a special talent she gets frustrated.  She does not want her mother to push her into anything.

Jing-mei might have been more open to the idea of being a prodigy if her mother had asked for input from her on what talents to try.  Her mother seems to just come up with a lot of random talents from stories of prodigies in magazines.   

The tests got harder - multiplying numbers in my head, finding the queen of hearts in a deck of cards, trying to stand on my head without using my hands, predicting the daily temperatures in Los angeles, New York, and London.

Jing-mei soon loses patience with her mother.  Jing-mei looks back at her reflection and realizes she is not the person she was.  Her mother is trying to change her.

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. I won't be what I'm not. 

This is when Jing-mei gives up on the prodigy idea.  She tells herself that she is not going to try to learn the piano, because it is not who she is.  She is no longer willing to play along.

You can train someone, but you cannot make a person a prodigy.

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How does Jing-Mei react at first to her mother's plan of making her a prodigy in "Two Kinds"?

In fact, in the beginning I was just as excited as my mother, maybe even more so. I pictured this prodigy part of me as many different images, and I tried each one on for size. ("Two Kinds")

Amy Tan, writing as Jing-Mei, clearly expresses how Jing-Mei reacted at first to her mother's plan of making her a prodigy: she was "just as excited as" her mother. As illustration of her excited feelings, when she was taken to get a Shirley Temple haircut, to become a Shirley Temple prodigy, she came out from under the scissors of a beauty school trainee with uneven "crinkly black fuzz" that her mother and the beauty school instructor attacked and "lopped off." Undaunted, Jing-Mei "liked the haircut" and found it a catalyst to looking forward to her "future fame" as a prodigy.

Jing-Mei was just as excited as her mother--"maybe even more so"--about the prospect of becoming a famous American prodigy like the ones in the magazines gotten from houses her mother cleaned. She could picture herself as any one of a number of child-sized achievers, from ballerinas to Cinderellas. Her excitement led her to believe she would, as a prodigy, be "perfect," finally fulfilling all her parents' expectations and becoming the one they would "adore."   

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.

Her excitement crashes brutally only after failing night after to answer her mother's prodigy quizzes--"What's the capital of Finland?" "Nairobi!"-and seeing the looks of disappointment on her mother's face. But before that, Jing-Mei was excited about the prodigy project right along with her mother.

And after seeing, once again, my mother's disappointed face, something inside me began to die. I hated ... the raised hopes and failed expectations.

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How does Jing-Mei react at first to her mother's plan of making her a prodigy in "Two Kinds"?

She thinks she can do it but after trying Jing Mei realizes that the expectations are too high and she stops trying.  Unfortunately for her, her mother does not see the same way  and pressures Jing Mei to continue on.

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