Literary Devices in Two Kinds

Katherine Weeks 8/24/12


The setting of this particular story is the China Town located in San Francisco, California.
San Francisco, California's China Town


When the story begins, the audience is introduced to the two main characters, Jing-mei and her mother. Within the events of this paritcular piece of literature, both of the main characters are written to be very dynamic. In other words, they change internally due to both internal and external conflicts.
The above image represents the scrutiny that Jing-mei is constantly put under by her mother.


The stage for this narrative tale is set with the exposition, as the story begins. First, the audience is introduced to the Mother's ideas that America is "the land of opportunity." Immediately after, the topic of Jing- mei's mother's undying hope for her daughter to become a prodigy is introduced. The reader is then given some background information on Mother's immigration and beliefs. This information is crucial for the story, because without it, the average reader would find it difficult to sympathize with Mother's feelings, actions, and attitudes that occur in later events.Following this portion of the story is the rising action. As events continue, Jing- mei's mother goes to great lengths and does everything in her power for her daughter to become a prodigy. when she is young, she holds the idea that Jing could become the next "Shirley Temple." When that plan failed, Mother browses through world record books to find other forms of prodigies that her daughter could strive to achieve. She quizzes her with random questions and assigns her random tasks. With each attempt she makes, Jing-mei fails, again and again. She begins to build overwhelming frustration and feels that she will never be good enough or excepted by her mother. With this thought in hand, she decides she will no longer push herself to the limits her mother wishes her to. The last attempt that Mother makes for Jing-mei to become a prodigy is with piano playing. Mother arranges for their neighbor to teach Jing to play piano. Jing willfully attends her lessons, however she soon uncovers that the old man teaching her to play is, in fact, deaf. She learns that she could make as many mistakes as she wants, and he will not notice. One day, Jing's mother is speaking with a friend and is informed that this woman's daughter is the youngest chess prodigy of China Town. Jing's mother banters back that her daughter is a prodigy, too. However, at this moment, she in unaware that her daughter is nothing more than an amature. She furthers her bragging and signs Jing-mei up for a recital to showcase her "talent." This is where the Climax unfolds.  When Jing-mei performs at her recital, her lack of talent becomes blatently obvious for everyone. Jing-mei is mortified. The final resolution of this story takes place years after the climax. Jing-mei's mother gives up on her daughter becoming a prodigy as she ages. On Jing's 30th birthday, her mother decides to give Jing the piano. The piano sybolizes forgiveness at this point. She felt that by this gesture, her mother had said "this is you piano" and "I love you." This was a major milestone for Jing-mei, as she finally felt at peace with herself and her mother.
The piano plays a very significant role in the entire plot.

Internal Conflict

Internal cconflict in the story occurs within both main characters. Jing-mei's main internal conflict was that she wanted to please her mom, but at the same time, she wanted to fight for her independence. She wanted to be viewed as an individual and be accepted for who she was, reguardless of her being a prodigy or not. Her mother's internal conflict is that she loves her daughter very much and wants her to succeed but she doesn't want to hurt her by pushing her too hard.
The above image shows Jing-mei's internal conflict, by expressing the internalized, yet overwhelming emotions that she is experiencing within these exents.

External Conflict

The main source of external conflict in the story is between Jing-mei and her mother. Her mother wants her to be a prodigy at playing the piano, but Jing-mei feels that she will never be able to meet her mother's expectations. Due to this feeling of inferiority, Jing-mei gives up all hope of meeting her mothers expectations and places no effort on trying to please her.
This picture directly illustrates the blatent conflict between Mother and Jing-mei.


Within this story, there are a few major themes that are communicated.

1. Stand up for yourself.

2. Take pride in who you are.

3. Don't hold yourself to expectations that you cannot uphold, yourself.

The image shown above summerizes the themes that are expressed through this literary work.


One form of symbolism in this story is Jing-mei's piano. For the majority of this story, the piano has a negative connotation to Jing-mei. However, as the story comes to a close, the piano represents forgiveness from her mother. In addition it also was a symbol of Jing's mother's being proud of the woman she had become even though she had not excelled in one particular skill or area of knowledge as a child. The second form of symbolism in "Two Kinds" are the two songs that Jing-mei plays when she is given the piano from her childhood on her 30th birthday. These songs, "Pleading Child" and "Perfectly Contented" represent two halves of Jing-mei's life. One represents the "pleading child" she holds within. Jing-mei simply wanted to be accepted for who she was when she was young. She desperatly wanted to the pressure to be a prodigy to disappear. Now, she feels much more of that acceptance in her life, particularly from her mother. It is that feeling of relief, love, and forgiveness that makes her feel "perfectly contented" with her life, now. After playing these two seperatly titled songs, Jing-mei comes to the realization that these two songs are actually only two halves of one complete musical composition. This is very similar to how the peice symbolizes Jing-mei's life; the "Pleading Child" nor the "Perfectly Contented" peices within her life would not be complete without the other.

The Yin Yang symbol represents balance and completion. The songs, "Pleading Child" and "Perfectly Content" compliment each other much like the Yin and Yang do.

8.In the first part of the story there is a scene in which the daughter sees herself in the mirror. What does she see? What thematic significance could this scene have? How does it relate to the title?

In the beginning of the story, Jing-mei looks in the mirror and sees herself as very plain asian girl. She says that she doesn't look like anything special and she doesn't have the looks of someone who is expected to accomplish great things. This attitude continues throughout the rest of the story. Jing-mei rebells against her mother and shows great apathy around anythinf involving becoming a prodigy. She spends the rest of the story trying to prove to her mother that she is nothing more or less than she appears to be, and she is not destined for greatness. Mother does not approve of Jing-mei drifting from her ideas of what she needs to accomplish with her life. During the story, mother states that there are two kinds of daughters: the ones who are obedient and the ones who follow their own minds. This idea directly relates to the title, "Two Kinds."
The above image directly illustrates a girl of asain ethnicity analyzing herself in a mirror, as Jing-mei did.

9.Two strong-willed characters are pitted against each other in this story. What went wrong in the relationship between mother and daughter?

The major mishap in the relationship between Jing-mei and her mother is that they are both extremely stubborn and do not communicate what they are thinking very effectively or often. Mother continues to push Jing-mei long after she gives up all hope on becoming a prodigy. She becomes very willful when it comes to performing any prodigy-related tasks her mother assigns. Jing begins to feel extremely frustrated and inadequite. She does not communicate these feelings. Even though mother senses Jing-mei's loss of interest in the idea of being a prodigy, mother does not back off of presurring her daughter. The fact that neither one of them will come to a compromise with the other, lead to the climax of the story.
This image shows the stubborn attitudes of Jing-mei and her mother and their inability to compromise with one another in any way.

10.Read carefully the parts dealing with the mother’s earlier life in China. How have her earlier experiences shaped her ambitions for her daughter?

Her mother grew up in China, where there were not very many opportunities to be successful. She moved to America in hopes that her daughter will have more of these kinds of opportunities. She believes that in America, you can achieve anything you want to. She wants so badly for her daughter to take advantage of the opportunity-filled life that she has been given.
Jing-mei's mother grew up in China. For most of her life, she lived in poverty without opportunities to acheive her wants and dreams.
This text summerizes Jing-mei's Mother's immigration to America.
The political cartoon shown above illustrates that America is viewed as the "land of opportunity" to other parts of the world.