Study Guide

The Joy Luck Club Part 2, Chapter 4

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Part 2, Chapter 4

  • When she was alive, Suyuan, Jing-mei’s mom, believed in the classic American Dream, that she and her daughter could be whatever they wanted to be.
  • We enter a flashback to when Jing-mei is a girl.
  • After seeing the wild success of Waverly, Jing-mei’s mother is convinced that her daughter can be a prodigy too.
  • With Suyuan’s urging, Jing-mei attempts a number of prodigy-like activities: being a Chinese Shirley Temple and attending beauty training school, memorizing the Bible, performing amazing acrobatics, etc.
  • At first, Jing-mei is excited about the idea of being a prodigy.
  • Jing-mei’s mom searches through magazines for stories about incredible children and what they are capable of, then she quizzes Jing-mei to see if Jing-mei has similar abilities. Tests range from naming the capitals of different countries to mental mathematics.
  • Jing-mei loses her own excitement about possibly being a prodigy when she continues to see her mom disappointed after every failed test. Instead, Jing-mei becomes determined not to be good at all of the tests, and tries to get her mom to give up on her.
  • On one fateful evening when Suyuan had seemingly given up the idea of Jing-mei being a prodigy, she sees a little Chinese girl pianist on The Ed Sullivan Show. Suyuan is entranced because the little girl is both Shirley Temple-ish and a good, modest Chinese child.
  • Jing-mei’s mom accuses Jing-mei of not being the best at anything because she isn’t trying hard enough.
  • Within a few days, Suyuan has arranged to clean a piano teacher’s house in exchange for Jing-mei receiving piano lessons.
  • Despite her kicking and screaming about not being a genius, Suyuan forces Jing-mei to go to piano lessons.
  • Jing-mei’s teacher is a deaf man ("Like Beethoven!") named Mr. Chong who doesn’t notice incorrect notes and thinks all of the fake stuff Jing-mei makes up is "Very good!" because he can’t hear it. So long as she plays in the proper rhythm, the notes don’t matter.
  • So she determines not to try – or at least to try not to be a good pianist.
  • After church Jing-mei hears Lindo Jong bragging to Suyuan about all of Waverly’s chess trophies. Suyuan tries to one-up Lindo by saying that Jing-mei has tremendous natural talent at piano.
  • Jing-mei can’t handle her mom’s prideful lies.
  • A few weeks later, Jing-mei has her grand debut at a talent show. She is to play "Pleading Child" by Schumann. Everyone is there, including Jing-mei’s archrival, Waverly.
  • She feels totally confident, and really pretty in her white dress. The only problem is, Jing-mei’s been practicing her curtsy more often than her scales.
  • She completely and totally bombs her piece.
  • Jing-mei looks at her mom, who’s horrified, and even hears little kids talking about how bad she was. The adults say vague things about Jing-mei’s performance, and Waverly makes smug comments ("You aren’t a genius like me").
  • Afterwards, Jing-mei assumes that her piano career is over, but her mother forces the issue, telling her to quit watching TV and get to practicing.
  • When Jing-mei says no, Suyuan literally drags her daughter over to the piano and forces her onto the bench.
  • Jing-mei yells at her mother, saying that she’s not the kind of daughter her mother wants.
  • Her mother says there are two kinds of daughters: obedient ones, and ones who follow their own minds. There is only room for one kind of daughter in this house: obedient ones.
  • To win the fight, Jing-mei brings up the babies left behind in China; she says that she’d rather be dead like the twins than be Suyuan’s daughter. Ouch.
  • The flashback ends and we return to the present day.
  • Jing-mei explains that she continued to deliberately and repeatedly fall short of expectations.
  • Jing-mei isn’t like her mom who believes that a person can be anything she sets her mind to; Jing-mei just thinks she’s herself and there’s nothing that can be done about it.
  • We flashback again to when Jing-mei is thirty years old.
  • That the fight over piano hasn’t been mentioned since it happened ages ago, and Jing-mei is afraid to ask her mom why she gave up hope that Jing-mei would be a prodigy.
  • On her thirtieth birthday, Jing-mei’s mother offers her the piano as a gift. Suyuan tells Jing-mei that she could pick up piano quickly if she wanted to. Jing-mei understands it as a sign of forgiveness.
  • The flashback ends and we’re back in the present with Jing-mei as an adult.
  • After her mother’s death, Jing-mei has the piano tuned and reconditioned for sentimental reasons.
  • Jing-mei sits down to play "Pleading Child," and realizes there is a companion piece called "Perfectly Contented."
  • After a while, she realizes they are two parts to the same song.

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