Literary Devices Found in Two Kinds
by Chris Burgess and Madeline Rosenblum
The setting of "Two Kinds" is in Chinatown, Downtown San Fransisco, California. The story takes place around the late 1970s.
Jing-mei is the main character of the story. Her mother is a Chinese immigrant who believes that a person can accomplish anything in America, and she urges Jing-mei to excel in many subjects; she wants her to be a child prodigy. Jing-mei's mother has a friend known to Jing-mei as "Auntie Lindo." Auntie Lindo has a daughter named Waverly who Jing-mei views as snotty and stuck up. Old Chong is Jing-mei's deaf piano teacher.
The story is introduced by Jing-mei, who is also the narrator. She explains how her mother emigrated to the US from China after losing her mother, father, family home, husband, and two daughters. Jing-mei's mother believed that a person can become anything he or she wishes in America, and she hoped for Jing-mei to become a prodigy.Her mother was very enthusiastic to get her daughter off to a good start, so she took her to a beauty training school in hopes that she could become a Chinese Shirley Temple. At first, Jing-mei was just as excited as her mother was, and she often dreamed of her future fame and success. However, her mother began to quiz her on numerous subjects, expecting Jing-mei to know all of the answers to her questions and was disappointed when she didn't perform up to her expectations. Jing-mei eventually became bored with the tests, and her mother seemingly gave up on her future as a prodigy.Two or three months after the tests had stopped, Jing-mei's mother enrolled her in piano lessons after watching a little girl play the piano on the Ed Sullivan Show. Jing-mei's piano teacher, Mr. Chong, was deaf, and Jing-mei found that she could easily take advantage of this and slack off without Mr. Chong noticing. Piano lessons went on for a year with Jing-mei practicing in her own lazy way without her parents knowing.In an attempt to show off to Auntie Lindo and Waverly, Jing-mei's mother decided to enter her into a talent show. Several weeks later when it came time for Jing-mei to perform, she entirely messed up and embarrassed herself in front of her family, Auntie Lindo, Waverly, and the entire crowd. Her mother is so disappointed at her failure that she didn't talk to her for the rest of the day.The following week, when it came time for Jing-mei to go to her piano lessons, her mother still expected her to get up and go, despite her awful performance at the talent show. Jing-mei refused, and after a long fight, her mother dropped the idea of piano lessons and never spoke of them again.Jing-mei lived an average life up until her 30s, when her mother passed away. Her mother had offered her the piano, much to her surprise, soon before her death. At first she didn't accept the gift, but later she decided that she would sit down and play the piece that she had played so many years ago at the talent show. It was titled "Pleading Child." After looking at the piece on the other side of the page, titled "Perfectly Contented," she played them a few times together and realized they were part of the same song.
There is internal conflict regarding Jing-mei's feelings; she is forced to do things that she hates because her mother wants so badly for her to become a prodigy, even though she would rather live a more normal, average life.
There is much external conflict between Jing-mei and her mother; her mother presses for Jing-mei to become a prodigy, but Jing-mei refuses to become what her mother wants her to be. This leads to a huge fight between the two, damaging their relationship as mother and daughter.
A possible theme of this story is that family relationships can be made difficult by conflict. For example, Jing-mei and her mother have a seemingly good, normal relationship in the beginning of the story, but as time goes on, their differing opinions and feelings cause them to grow apart into opposing forces, complicating their relationship with each other. Jing-mei almost resented her mother in her early years, but later, she realized that she was rather naive and she came to view her childhood in a different way.
An important use of symbolism in this story is the names of the two pieces that Jing-mei played, the first one at her talent show when she was younger, and both of them together at the end of the story. The first piece was titled "Pleading Child," and the second piece was titled "Perfectly Contented." Jing-mei had to learn and play "Pleading Child" for the talent show, but only much later did she realize that "Perfectly Contented" was actually a second part of the same song. This symbolizes her inability to view herself as content around the time of her piano lessons, as this was the only part of the piece she had to play then. Her view that in retrospect, she should have appreciated her childhood more, is symbolized when she realizes that both pieces are part of the same song; she only just then made that connection.
When Jing-mei looks at herself in the mirror, she sees an angry, wild girl. This has thematic significance in the fact that it reveals Jing-mei's internal conflict; the way she sees herself in the mirror contrasts with the way she feels she is living her life. This relates to the title, because Jing-mei sees "Two Kinds" of herself.
In this story the mother wanted the daughter to be someone that she wasn't and the daughter didn't want to comply with her mother's desires.
Jing-mei's mother had already lost 3 children while she lived in China. She believed that one could do anything in America and with all the hardships, she just wanted her daughter to have a good life. That's why she pushed Jing-mei so hard, and ultimately that's what led to all the problems and dissapointent.