The short story “Two Kinds” by Amy Tan is about the complexities and difficulties in the relationship between a mother and daughter. Because a lot takes place in the story, Dermot McManus states, “In the story, we have the theme of hope, identity, rebellion, responsibility, blame, independence, and acceptance.” Throughout the story, the mother, Suyuan, forces all of her hopes and dreams on her daughter, Jing-Mei. Instead of coming off as caring and understanding, she comes off as strict and controlling. Throughout the story, the mother constantly pushes her daughter to try and become different types of prodigies. Jing-Mei is forced to take piano lessons, watch Shirley Temple movies, answer “genius”-like questions from the “Ripley’s believe it or not” magazine, and more. Suyuan’s first thought was to turn Jing-Mei into a “Shirley Temple” after making her watch television shows. She then makes Jing-Mei go to a beautician school to have her hair done in resemblance of Shirley Temple.
Not to mention, Jing-Mei claims, “…[Suyuan] put me in the hands of a student who could barely hold the scissors without shaking.” Jing-Mei mentions in the story, “In all of my imaginings I was filled with a sense that I would soon become perfect: My mother and father would adore me” (1). This shows how she does not believe her mother and father honestly love her for her. They continuously push her to be someone she is not. In the beginning, Jing-Mei was excited to become a “prodigy” because she felt as if it would make her parents “adore” her. As the story progresses she becomes rebellious towards her mother because she realizes that she does not want to be the person whom her mother dreams of her being. The “new” Jing-Mei states,“I looked at my reflection, blinking so that I could see more clearly. The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful… I will not let her change me, I promised myself.
I won’t be what I’m not” (2). Cynthia Berecca, a critic of the story, describes the bold personality of Jing-Mei and asserts, “Discovering a powerful side of herself, Jing resolves not to become something she is not simply to please her mother.” The relationship between Jing-Mei and her parents begins to break even more at the point in the story where she performs at a talent show and does not do so well. She is broken because of the audience’s reaction and more so of her mother and father’s reaction. Neither her mother nor father congratulates her and she even goes on to say, “…my mother’s expression was what devastated me: a quiet, blank look that said she had lost everything” (4), instead of her mother acknowledging that she tried, she acts as if Jing-Mei had just ruined her life.
As if her parent’s reactions were not bad enough, Jing-Mei receives the same treatment from the crowd, and she tells us, “The audience clapped weakly, and [she] walked back to [her] chair, with [her] whole face quivering as [she] tried not to cry, [she] heard a little boy whisper loudly to his mother. “That was awful,” and mother whispered, “Well, she certainly tried.” In many situations, it is best if the mother directs her child in a certain situation, but in the story, it causes long term damage to Jing-Mei. It leaves her with feelings of disapproval and questioning her self-worth. Jing-Mei feels she has failed her mother in many ways.
She explains, “I did not get straight As. I did not become class president. I did not get into Stanford. I dropped out of college” (5). The way Suyuan treats Jing-Mei leaves Jing-Mei feeling as if she has disappointed her mother tremendously. This toxic relationship inevitably changes Jing-Mei forever because she states, “It was not the only disappointment my mother felt in me. In the years that followed, I failed her many times, each time asserting my will, my right to fall short of expectations.” Suyuan wants Jing-Mei to be accepted by society so bad, and to become someone “great”, that she does not realize she is slowly tearing her daughter apart. Though the author, Amy Tan, is Chinese, she refers to herself as an “American writer”, states author Deborah Mason. It all makes sense. Of all the continents in the world, Suyuan chose North America and the “American Dream” that it possesses. This is what she wants Jing-Mei to pursue with all her heart. Instead of living her life through her daughter, Suyuan should have accepted the simple fact that not everyone can be a genius. Suyuan should have let Jing-Mei live her life as the child she was and not as the child her mother wanted her to be.
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