"Two Kinds" is a short story from the book The Joy Luck Club. It's often called a novel, but it's really a collection of connected short stories.
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This article begins with a summary and then looks at themes and a few other noteworthy elements.
Summary of "Two Kinds"
At nine-years-old the narrator, Jing-mei, was told by her mother that she could be a prodigy. Her mother believed that America offered endless opportunity. She arrived in the country in 1949, after losing her family, including twin baby girls, and her possessions in China.
The mother decides Jing-mei can be the Chinese Shirley Temple. They watch her movies carefully. Jing-mei is taken to get her hair done like Shirley's, but the beauty school trainee botches it. The instructor fixes it by giving Jing-mei a boy's haircut with slanted bangs.
Jing-mei is excited at the prospect of being a prodigy and becoming perfect.
Jing-mei's mother has a large collection of popular periodicals, collected from the homes of her cleaning clients. Every evening, her mother tests to see if Jing-mei has the same talent as one of the remarkable children featured.
They check if she knows all the state capitals, can multiply numbers in her head, can do card tricks, can balance on her head, can predict temperatures in major cities, can memorize pages of the Bible, and various other things.
Jing-mei falls short in every area. Her mother is disappointed, and Jing-mei starts hating the tests and expectations. She becomes uncooperative during the nightly tests, just going through the motions. The sessions become shorter until her mother gives up.
A few months pass. One day, they see a little Chinese girl playing the piano on The Ed Sullivan Show. The mother criticizes the performance and sees an opportunity for her daughter.
She soon arranges piano lessons for Jing-mei, as well as a piano to practice on daily in exchange for her housecleaning services. Mr. Chong is a retired piano teacher living in their apartment building. He looks ancient to Jing-mei. She doesn't want to play piano.
It turns out Mr. Chong is deaf and has poor sight. For the lessons, Mr. Chong points out a musical element and then plays it. Jing-mei plays it next. He teaches her how to keep the rhythm. She realizes she can make mistakes without him noticing.
Jing-mei learns the basics but doesn't put in the effort to get really good. She continues practicing for a year.
One day after church, Jing-mei's mother talks to her friend, Lindo Jong. Lindo's daughter, Waverly, has become known as a chess champion. Jing-mei's mother counters by bragging about her daughter's talent for music. Jing-mei decides to end her mother's foolish pride.
A few weeks later, the mother and Mr. Chong arrange for Jing-mei to play in a talent show in the church hall. By now, Jing-mei's parents have bought her a secondhand piano. She practices a simple piece without much focus, and a fancy curtsy.
Her parents invite all their friends and acquaintances to the show. It begins with the youngest children.
Jing-mei is excited for her turn. This is her opportunity. She looks lovely. She's surprised when she hears the first wrong note. More follow and she feels a chill. She continues the piece through to the end as the sour notes pile up.
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When Jing-mei finishes she's shaking. After she curtsies, the room is silent. Mr. Chong shouts "Bravo!", and the audience applauds lightly. Jing-mei returns to her seat. She's embarrassed and feels the shame of her parents. They stay for the rest of the show.
Afterward, the adults make vague comments about the performances. Waverly tells Jing-mei she isn't a genius like her.