Neither Jing-mei nor Suyuan is completely to blame for the piano recital disaster. It is Suyuan’s incessant nagging and insinuations regarding her daughter’s inadequacies that partially drive Jing-mei to refuse to practice seriously. The pain Jing-mei feels after the recital stems not just from her own failure but also from her shame in having disappointed her mother. This shame will persist into her adult life, as she continues to fall short of her mother’s expectations. Perhaps Jing-mei’s shame in fact stems from her guilt in having willed her own failure.
Suyuan’s inflated expectations and excessive pressure backfire, contributing to Jing-mei’s failure to achieve what she might have achieved if left to herself. Yet, at the same time, the disastrous piano recital also testifies to the power of Suyuan’s love for Jing-mei, and to her faith in her daughter’s ability. The immense energy that Suyuan devotes to the search for Jing-mei’s “inner prodigy”—cleaning for her piano teacher, saving up for a used piano—demonstrates that her motivations probably lie deeper than the promise of bragging rights at church each Sunday. Many years later, Jing-mei realizes that Suyuan’s attempt to bring out her “prodigy” expressed her deep faith in her daughter’s abilities rather than her desire to make her something she was not.
At the end of her narrative, Jing-mei adds that Suyuan offered her the piano for her thirtieth birthday, a gesture that shows that Suyuan understands the reasons behind Jing-mei’s refusal to play: Jing-mei did not regard the piano lessons as something she did for herself. By offering the piano to her daughter as a gift, Suyuan gives Jing-mei the opportunity to try again without feeling as though she is doing so for someone else’s benefit. Although Jing-mei says she did not take the piano right away, she is comforted by Suyuan’s expression of faith in her ability to do what she wanted.
Sadly, Jing-mei did not understand until after Suyuan’s death that her conflicts with her mother did not arise from any cruel expectations on Suyuan’s part but from Suyuan’s love and faith in her—even when Jing-mei failed, or even purposefully failed, to live up to that faith. Jing-mei comes to this understanding when she sits at the recently tuned piano, Suyuan’s peace offering, and tries to play Schumann’s “Pleading Child” once again. When she plays the piece on the facing page, “Perfectly Contented,” and realizes that the two are “two halves of the same song,” Jing-mei is articulating the fact that she has journeyed psychologically from a place of pained longing for her mother’s acceptance to a place of understanding why her mother pushed her so hard: the pleading child has come to a place of contentment, though the path she has taken may be littered with regrets.