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Free Study Guide: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan - BookNotes

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THE JOY LUCK CLUB: PRINTABLE STUDY GUIDE

Jing-Mei Woo - Two Kinds

Summary

Jing-Mei is the daughter of Suyuan, the recently deceased mother who was introduced in Section I as the founder of The Joy Luck Club. Before her death, Suyuan had always seen America as a land of hope and fulfillment. Wanting her daughter to have every advantage in this land of opportunity, she gave her various lessons, such as piano and acting, and encouraged her to apply herself in school so she could have intellectual excellence. Jing-Mei resented her mother’s interference and insistence on excellence.


It was difficult for Suyuan to save the money to buy a used piano for Jing-Mei. To pay for Jing-Mei’s piano lessons, she cleaned the teacher’s house. Although Suyuan insisted that her daughter practice hard to become a concert pianist, Jing-Mei showed no real talent or drive to excel at the piano. Her first recital was a flop, and she refused to play any more. When her mother protested, Jing-Mei shouted that she wished she were dead, just like her mother’s two lost babies in China. Sadly, her mother put the piano up and never mentioned it again until Jing-Mei was an adult.

On Jing-Mei’s thirtieth birthday, Suyuan asked her if she would like to have the piano; but Jing-Mei had no interest in it. Ironically, after Suyuan’s death, Jing-Mei claimed the piano and began to play again. Surprisingly, she found out that she had some talent and that she could still play some of the old songs she had learned in her youth. The first piece she remembered was appropriate called “Pleading Child;” the second piece was called “Perfectly Contented.”

Notes

Once again the chapter highlights the conflict between the aspirations of a mother and the feelings of resistance from a daughter. Suyuan, having lost two daughters in China, wants the best for Jing-Mei. She gives her a variety of lessons, wants her to excel in her studies, and tries unsuccessfully to make her a concert pianist. Unfortunately, Suyuan pressures her daughter to the point of rebellion. Jing-Mei takes no interest in the piano and refuses to practice as her mother wants. She convinces herself that she does not have to do what her mother desires.

Suyuan believes in the American Dream. With hard work, she feels that Jing-Mei can be anything she wants to be in this great country. After all, her daughter will never suffer the kind of deprivation and tragedies that she had to endure in China. Jing-Mei, however, takes America for granted. A product of American culture, she is independent and resistant to Chinese heritage and traditions. She has no desire to prove herself or excel in any field. She wants to take life as it comes. In her words, “I did not believe I could be anything I wanted to be. I could only be me.” Although Suyuan allows her daughter to choose her vocation, Jing-Mei is not really interested in any field. She studies, but without dedication. Her resistance is the result of a clash of cultures; Jing-Mei resists what she thinks is the restrictive influence of her oriental background.

Amy Tan has appropriately titled this chapter as “Two Kinds.” Suyuan and Jing-Mei are opposites in their natures and attitudes. The title also refers to two pieces of music on the piano. As a child, Jing-Mei had considered the two parts to be separate pieces, neither of which she could master. After her mother’s death, however, she takes up the piano again and discovers that the pieces are two parts of a whole. She discovers the same thing about herself. Although she is American, she is also Chinese - the product of her mother. The first two piano pieces that Jing-Mei plays as an adult are significant, for she has evolved from a “Pleading Child” to a “ Perfectly Contented” woman who can understand the two cultures that have shaped her.


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