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Symbolism of the piano in "Two Kinds" and its relationship to Jing Mei and her mother

Summary:

In "Two Kinds," the piano symbolizes the conflict and eventual reconciliation between Jing Mei and her mother. Initially, it represents the mother's high expectations and Jing Mei's rebellion against them. Over time, the piano becomes a symbol of Jing Mei's acceptance of her identity and her mother's dreams, reflecting their complex relationship and mutual understanding.

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What does the piano symbolize for Jing Mei and her mother in "Two Kinds?"

Two Kinds” is a story of the fraught relationship between Jing Mei and her Chinese immigrant mother. After losing her parents, her first husband, and her twin daughters, Jing Mei’s mother moves to San Francisco to start a new life and pursue the American Dream of success.

My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America. You could open a restaurant. You could work for the government and get good retirement. You could buy a house with almost no money down. You could become rich. You could become instantly famous.

Like many immigrant parents, she holds high expectations for her American-born daughter Jing Mei. To her, success and fame can be obtained through talent and accolades. The piano symbolizes her expectations of and hope for her daughter. After Jing Mei fails to live up to her mother’s ideal of a genius at academic tests, the piano becomes another means of potential worth and fame; Jing Mei’s mother has Jing Mei take piano lessons and then shows off the girl’s supposed talent in an ill-fated talent show. She wants to have “face” and prove to her Chinese immigrant peers that her own daughter is a prodigy. The piano is a physical manifestation of prestige:

my parents had saved up enough to buy me a secondhand piano, a black Wurlitzer spinet with a scarred bench. It was the showpiece of our living room.

To Jing Mei, however, the piano is a symbol of burdensome high parental expectations, empty goals, and blind obedience. She studies piano lackadaisically; she plays not out of actual personal interest in music or the instrument, but out of a desire to please her mother. She realizes that if she succeeds at something, then “[her] mother and father would adore [her]. [She] would be beyond reproach.” After failing to succeed as an academic genius, Jing Mei observes,

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

But then her later attempt to succeed at piano is undermined by her own lack of desire or respect for playing.

I did pick up the basics pretty quickly, and I might have become a good pianist at the young age. But I was so determined not to try, not to be anybody different, and I learned to play only the most ear-splitting preludes, the most discordant hymns.

By playing poorly, Jing Mei rebels against her mother, causing her to “lose face” with an embarrassing performance at a talent show. When she first starts playing, Jing Mei fools herself into thinking she may actually be good despite not working hard.

When my turn came, I was very confident. I remember my childish excitement. It was as if I knew, without a doubt, that the prodigy side of me really did exist.

As she plays, however, she continually hits incorrect notes and humiliates herself—and her parents—in front of other Chinese immigrants and their American-born offspring. The piano then transforms into a symbol of her disappointment to her parents and failure to reach her mother’s expectations.

I felt the shame of my mother and father as they sat stiffly through the rest of the show.

She further explains,

my mother's expression was what devastated me: a quiet, blank look that said she had lost everything.

After the disastrous show, Jing Mei’s mother tries to make Jing Mei continue to practice; to the mother, the piano still represents hope, diligence, and obedience. Jing Mei violently resists this symbol of obedience and burdensome expectations.

“You want me to be something that I'm not!” I sobbed. “I'll never be the kind of daughter you want me to be!”

“Only two kinds of daughters,” she 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!”

This division between two types of daughters—obedient and independent—underlines probable disagreements between Jing Mei and her mother in what it means to be an American. To the mother, being an American means being successful and famous—like a prodigy—but also being obedient to and bringing honor to one’s parents. To Jing Mei, however, being an American means separating from and establishing an identity unique from one’s parents. Unlike her mother, Jing Mei does not believe that being an American means endless potential and hope for greatness.

Unlike my mother, I did not believe I could be anything I wanted to be, I could only be me.

After years of not discussing the piano, Jing Mei’s mother gives her the instrument for her thirtieth birthday. The piano becomes a symbol of reconciliation between them; the mother still loves and holds gentler, non-judgmental hopes for her daughter, and Jing Mei no longer resents her mother and her unrealistic expectations. She sees the piano as “a sign of forgiveness, a tremendous burden removed.” Jing Mei surprises herself by playing the piano easily and with affection.

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What do the mother and daughter symbolize in "Two Kinds" and what does the piano represent to each?

Jing-mei's mother carries a heavy burden with her: she had been forced to abandon twin daughters in China in 1949. Likely because of this loss, she is certain that she can help Jing-mei achieve the American Dream and believes that if her daughter will only work hard enough, the two of them will uncover talents that will lead to great fame and success in America. This is her own new beginning, and a chance to redeem her losses in some way. She pushes Jing-mei, never really allowing her daughter to have a voice in these efforts. At first, she is convinced that Jing-mei can be a beautiful child actress. Then, she pressures Jing-mei to memorize facts and texts—without much luck. Finally, she decides that her daughter will be a talented piano prodigy with the guidance of a teacher and through some practice. To her credit, Jing-mei's mother really believes in her daughter and in the country that provides the possibility for the dreams, telling Jing-mei, "Of course, you can be a prodigy, too. You can be best anything." She also seemingly trusts Jing-mei's efforts, never checking behind her after these lessons to make sure her daughter is doing her best. In fact, she is so certain of Jing-Mei's success that she "invited all the couples from their social club to witness [her] debut." Although absolutely floored after realizing the truth, Jing-mei's mother is resolute, determined that her daughter not quit and insisting that the lessons continue. She is a determined woman and a champion of her daughter, whether her daughter wants the help or not.

Jing-mei herself is mostly unappreciative of these efforts. At first excited about her mother's ideas, her hope fades after a couple of failed attempts at American fame, and she is left feeling resentful and bitter. Part of the reason Jing-mei fails so spectacularly is her own fault; she takes advantage of her music teacher's poor hearing and eyesight:

He taught me all these things and that was how I also learned I could be lazy and get away with mistakes, lots of mistakes. If I hit the wrong notes because I hadn't practiced enough, I never corrected myself; I just kept playing in rhythm. And Old Chong kept conducting his own private reverie.

So maybe I never really gave myself a fair chance.

Jing-mei is also a master of self-deception. With all her efforts to avoid playing piano well, she convinces herself that she will indeed be a talented prodigy, although she has never once played at that level privately with her teacher:

When my turn came, I was very confident. I remember my childish excitement. It was as if I knew, without a doubt, that the prodigy side of me really did exist. I had no fear whatsoever, no nervousness. I remember thinking, This is it! This is it!

Jing-mei holds on to the resentment toward her mother for many years, only realizing after her death that their relationship was "two halves of the same song," both angst-filled and contented.

To Jing-mei's mother, then, the piano is a symbol of the hopes she has for her daughter. She believes in her daughter's greatness and anticipates celebrating Jing-mei's success. To Jing-mei, the piano is a symbol of her mother's controlling tendencies. This provides the generational conflict of a daughter who pushes back against the will of her mother in direct and indirect ways. To Jing-mei's mother, being American means working hard and achieving great success because of those efforts. She, in fact, trades cleaning services to obtain piano lessons for Jing-mei, so she sacrifices her own time to provide what she believes her daughter needs for American success. On the other hand, Jing-mei believes that being American means being free to make her own choices—or not to try at all. Again, this sense of American freedoms is a source of conflict between mother and daughter.

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How does the piano symbolize the conflicts in Two Kinds between Jing Mei and her mother, and within the mother herself?

You have asked two questions there - rules are you can only ask one, so I will respond to the first, which will include some heavy hints about the second... :-)

The end of "Two Kinds" represents both the end of the conflict between Jing Mei and her mother that can be traced throughout this short story and Jing Mei's own self-acceptance of herself as an individual.

From the first, it is clear that playing the piano is another one of Jing-Mei's mother's schemes to force her daughter into becoming a child prodigy. When Jing-Mei is told about her classes, she "felt as though I had been sent to hell." Her response to her mother clearly displays how she views what is happening: "Why don't you like me the way I am?" She sees her mother's schemes as a reflection on herself and feels that she is not accepted by her mother if she cannot be a genius.

It is only when she hears her mother bragging that Jing-Mei decides to "stop her foolish pride" with the dramatic climax of the story in the concert, beginning a catalogue of choices or "failures" where Jing-Mei asserted "my own will, my right to fall short of expectations."

Before her mother dies, Jing Mei is given the piano by her mother. It is interesting that she describes this as a "shiny trophy" - a metaphor that clearly indicates her feelings about the piano and about her conflict with her mother over her piano playing. Jing Mei regards the piano as a "shiny trophy" because she has won it, but on her own terms, rather than through being forced to do something by her mother.

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How does the piano symbolize the conflicts in Two Kinds between Jing Mei and her mother, and within the mother herself?

I think we can definitely say that the piano is a symbol that changes in this excellent short story that focuses on the relationship between a mother and her daughter. It is clear that from the first mention of piano lessons, the piano, in Jing-Mei's childhood, is a symbol of the conflict between the mother and the daughter. Note Jing-Mei's initial response to the news that she will be having piano lessons:

"Why don't you like me the way I am? 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!" I cried.

Thus we can see that even before Jing-Mei touches a piano, it is a symbol of the tension in her relationship with her mother and the way that she feels pressurised into being something that she is not. This of course continues as she has lessons with Old Chong, who can't actually hear, and then gives her disastrous performance.

However, at the end of the story, once Jing-Mei has asserted her own will and her right to "fall short of expectations," she is given the piano back by her mother, which Jing-Mei herself sees as a "shiny trophy" that she had won back and as a symbol of "forgiveness, a tremendous burden removed." The symbolism of the piano has changed subtlely because now Jing-Mei has won it on her own terms, without having to be pressurised. It also symbolises the way that Jing-Mei's mother accepts her for who she is as well.

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How does the piano symbolize the conflicts in Two Kinds between Jing Mei and her mother, and within the mother herself?

Jing-mei (June) has mixed feelings about her mother, just as the two parts of the song show a happy child and an unhappy child.  The piano represents the barrier between them.

Jing-mei is Chinese American, and the daughter of immigrants.  Her mother desperately wants Jing-mei to succeed.

My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America. .. You could become instantly famous.

Unfortunately, Jing-mei does not seem to have any talents.  At first, Jing-mei is just as excited as her mother at figuring out her new talent.  She pictures them in her head, trying “each one on for size.”  Unfortunately, the novelty wears off and Jing-mei starts to give up.

Jing-mei begins taking piano lessons from a deaf piano teacher who doesn’t realize she isn’t playing right.

… I might have become a good pianist at the young age. But I was so determined not to try, not to be anybody different…

Jing-mei is supposed to play a piece called “Pleading Child” which is a “simple, moody piece that sounded more difficult than it was” for the recital.  This demonstrates how she feels.  She does not want to play the piano.  She does not want to be a genius or a prodigy.  She wants to be who she is.   Unfortunately, she can’t tell her mother this.

Her mother is mortified by her poor performance, but she doesn’t give up.  June finally explodes, saying she wishes she was not her daughter.  This argument is a direct result of the lack of communication between mother and daughter.  The piano is just what brings the situation to a crisis. 

Later, June realizes that “Pleading Child” and “Contented Child” are two halves of the same song.  They both represent her mixed relationship with her mother.  She wants to please her mother, but only to a point.  She does not want to give up her identity.

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How does the piano symbolize the conflicts in Two Kinds between Jing Mei and her mother, and within the mother herself?

The piano represents June’s mother’s wish that her daughter succeed.  To June, her mother has unrealistic expectations that she be a prodigy, so the piano is a communication barrier between them.

In “Two Kinds” from The Joy Luck Club, June’s mother wants her to be a prodigy like Waverly, who plays chess.  She selects a variety of talents for June to try, but none of them stick. 

"Of course, you can be a prodigy, too," my mother told me when I was nine. "You can be best anything.” 

The piano teacher is deaf, so he assumes June is playing in tune—but she isn’t.   She is to play two songs “Pleading Child” and “Perfectly Contented.” At June’s recital, her mother is mortified by her bad playing.  Yet two days later her mother expects her to practice again.  June is confused.  She assumed she would never have to play the piano again.

"I'm not going to play anymore," I said nonchalantly. "Why should I? I'm not a genius."

Yet the bad playing is a direct result of the lack of communication between mother and daughter.  The piano is a barrier between them.  June and her mother cannot talk about her ability to play—or not play—the piano, and June’s mother never asks her what she wants and June never tells her.  June does not want to play the piano.  She does not try.

"You want me to be something that I'm not!" I sobbed. "I'll never be the kind of daughter you want me to be!"

Her mother tells her there are two kinds of daughters: obedient ones and “those who follow their own mind” and she will only accept the former.  It is not until June is older that she realizes that the two songs were two parts of the same song.  She has understood that the two daughters—the  obedient one and the independent one—are two parts of the same child.

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What does the piano symbolize in "Two Kinds"?

The piano represents the American Dream to the mother in "Two Kinds." The story begins, "My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America." She believes that with hard work, her daughter can become something great. After trying out several ways to make her daughter into a prodigy, the mother decides that her daughter will be a piano prodigy. Although the family does not have a piano, the mother trades housecleaning for piano lessons with the downstairs neighbor, Mr. Chong. She believes that with daily two-hour lessons, her daughter can achieve musical greatness at the piano. However, the daughter is lazy and realizes that Mr. Chong is deaf, so she never really applies herself to her lessons. Even after the daughter performs badly at a recital, the mother believes that with hard work, the daughter can still achieve greatness (though the daughter decides to give up playing the piano). In this sense, the piano stands for the promise of America and the American Dream—that if you try hard enough, success will be yours.

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What does the piano symbolize in "Two Kinds"?

This question has already been asked and answered here on eNotes.  Here is a link for you:  http://www.enotes.com/two-kinds/q-and-a/what-does-piano-symbolize-when-jing-mei-young-than-260456

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What does the piano symbolize in "Two Kinds"?

In "Two Kinds," the piano represents a type of trophy. Jing-mei's mother has a desire to make her daughter into something she is not. Also, the piano represents the struggle between a mother and daughter. Jing-Mei does not desire to play the piano. Her mother is determined that she will play like a star child prodigy she has seen on television:

This particular struggle invokes the mother's attempt to mold her daughter, Jing-mei, into a musical prodigy so that she will be able to brag to her friend Lindo Jong, whose daughter is a precocious chess champion.

For years, Jing-Mei and her mother struggle because her mother is so determined to make her daughter into something she is not. Jing-Mei's mother desires to have bragging rights in a type of competition with Lindo's daughter who is a chess champion.

The piano recital is Jing-Mei's chess board. The piano is a type of trophy that Jing-Mei's mother can have as a symbol of her daughter's accomplishment. In much the same way that Lindo brags over her daughter's chess trophies, Jing-Mei's mother desires to boast about her daughter's musical trophies.

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What does the piano symbolize in "Two Kinds"?

In "Two Kinds," the piano could reasonably be said to represent the ambition that Jing-mei's mother has for her daughter. Profoundly impressed by all the child prodigies she reads about in her magazines and watches performing on television talent shows, she's got it into her head that her daughter can follow in the footsteps of these remarkable children.

Eventually, Jing-mei's mother decides that her daughter will become a skilled concert pianist. With that end in mind, she arranges for Jing-mei to have piano lessons. She is convinced that, before long, Jing-mei will be the child prodigy she has always wanted her to be.

It doesn't quite work out like that, however. For one thing, Jing-mei's piano teacher happens to be deaf. Even more seriously, Jing-mei's heart isn't really in it. She hates piano lessons and doesn't put much effort into them. It's not hard to see why. She doesn't want to become a child prodigy; this is her mother's dream, not hers.

Jing-mei is independent-minded and doesn't automatically do whatever her mother wants like an obedient Chinese daughter. Her poor performance in the talent show can be seen as an assertion of independence and an act of rebellion. Ultimately, the piano can be construed as a symbol of the death of her mother's dream and of the deep rift that opens between mother and daughter when Jing-mei refuses to continue playing.

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