Overpower: Obedience and Rebellion
Growing up in an American society, I always wondered why my Chinese immigrant parents were so different from other parents. My family rules and structure were different from everyone else’s. My family would have arguments about situations other families would not argue about. Reading Maggie Scarf’s text gave me a new understanding of my family and what health category we fit into. Scarf argues all families fall within a spectrum ranging from happy and healthy or unhappy and unhealthy. According to Scarf, each family, even though all are different, fits into a “clearly recognizable…[level] of health and competence” (255). Likewise, Scarf’s assertions about differentiating the levels of power in each family help clarify the mother’s authoritative control as well as the daughter’s short-term obedience and long-term rebellion, in Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds.” Scarf describes how controlling a person’s actions can impact his or her life significantly as seen in the example of Jing-mei’s piano career. When controlling others, some do not understand “doing something because one ‘ought’ to do so is very different from doing it because it is an expression of one’s own genuine preference” (Scarf 260). Some people do things because they feel obligated to do the certain task, not because they want to or enjoy doing it. Someone who is forced to take on a task will not put forth the same effort as someone who genuinely wants to complete it. Scarf’s assertion about want and obligation can explain why Jing-mei played so horribly at the piano recital in Tan’s story. While Jing-mei’s mom really wanted Jing-mei to play well and become a piano prodigy, the daughter did not want to practice piano. In the short run, Jing-mei was able to fool and satisfy her mom by pretending to practice the piano. Because Jing-mei was forced by her mother to play the piano, she never really focused when practicing. And in the long run, her lack of concentration led Jing-mei to break down during the recital. Jing-mei’s mom acted the way she did because of her desire to control her daughter, and her actions connect with how Scarf describes feeling “either in control or…out of control” (257). According to Scarf, there are only two options, the leader either rules the family or does not. When a strict, controlling mother makes rules that are later broken, there will be severe consequences. Scarf’s claim clarifies why Jing-mei’s mom acted the way she did when Jing-mei refused to practice piano the day after her recital performance. Jing-mei’s refusal made her mother so furious, she “yanked [Jing-mei] by the arm, pulled [her] off the floor…she lifted [her] onto the hard bench” to make her practice (Tan 220). Jing-mei’s mom acts the way she does to show her daughter that mom is in control and there are the consequences when Jing-mei does not obey. Her mom feels that the use of force is the only way to express power and enforce consequences when rules are broken.
Not only do some authoritative figures express power, they overpower and start controlling the people around them. Scarf states, “maintaining total dominion over other people’s thoughts and feelings…may be effective in the short run but is doomed in the long run” (258). Some people feel that dominating others can be effective in maintaining an orderly family. However, constantly controlling people’s minds in the long run is bound to end chaotically. Parents can only control their children’s thoughts, ideas, and feelings for so long before they start thinking for themselves. When the children become so miserable from being restrained all the time, they will end up not doing anything the parents say. The children will start doing what they think is the best. Scarf’s statement helps the reader understand why Jing-mei stops trying to become the child prodigy in her mother’s dream. When Jing-mei realized she had once again disappointed her...
Cited: Scarf, Maggie. “The Beavers Scale of Family Health and Competence.” The Anteater Reader. 9th ed., Ed. Ray Zimmerman and Carla Copenhaven. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2006. 254 – 65.
Tan, Amy. “Two Kinds.” The Anteater Reader. 9th ed., Ed. Ray Zimmerman and Carla Copenhaven. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2006. 214 – 22.
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