Jing-Mei's mother is a determined Chinese immigrant with high ambitions for her daughter but little practical idea of how they can be achieved. While everyone has conflicts with their mothers at some point, Amy Tan is able to make this particular conflict interesting because the mother is such a comic, tragic, determined, and foreign character. The mother's comic and tragic traits are shown through her attempts to make Jing-Mei into Shirley Temple; the mother's determination is shown through her awful past in China and the resurrection of her life in America; and her foreign nature is shown by her obvious lack of understanding of United States culture. .
An example of the mother's ridiculous dreams for her daughter comes when the mother has Jing-Mei practice to be Shirley Temple. "We"d watch Shirley's old movies on TV as though they were training films"(1). She also takes her daughter to a beautician's to make her look like Shirley. The idea of a jet black-haired girl trying to make a name for herself by being a second Shirley Temple is funny in its absurdity yet sad in its utter hopelessness. .
The mother was born in China where she led a horrible life for many years. "She had come here in 1949 after losing everything in China: her mother and father, her family home, her first husband, and two daughters, twin baby girl"(1). Yet the mother is able to make her way to America where she works very hard cleaning houses to provide for her daughter. To continue with hope of a good life and a successful child after experiencing the hardships that she did requires unthinkable determination and strength of will. .
The unreachable standards and requirements that the mother set for Jing-Mei can be explained by her unfamiliarity with American culture. Having come to the United States with the belief that anyone could truly do anything, and that fame and fortune came quickly with just a little hard work, the mother's success schemes were not (in her mind) far-fetched.