Amy Tan’s ‘Two Kinds” is a short story about the relationship between a Chinese-American mother and her American daughter. Two Kinds is a chapter from Tans book, ‘The Joy Luck Club”, which is made up of sixteen stories about Tan growing up in America with a mother from ancient Chinese customs (Tan, 189). In this chapter, Tan describes her childhood not with emphasis on cultural differences, but as a girl trying to find herself all the while in constant conflict with her Chinese-American mother’s desire for her to become extraordinary.
While reading the story, it becomes clear that Daisy, Amy Tan’s mother, is her reason for writing. Tan’s mother, a child-survivor of the Nanking massacre and came to America in 1949 at the age of 18 leaving behind three daughters to escape communism and abuse (Scofield, Robert 2012). Daisy raised Tan as a Chinese mother with Chinese customs and prominently uses harsh words to motivate her daughter. Tan’s exposition of the story appears in the beginning with ‘you could” phrases that introduce the reader to the mother. ‘You could open a restaurant. You could become instantly famous. You can be best anything” (Tan, Two Kinds, 2012, p. 336). The reader’s interest is piqued in the first three paragraphs as it is clear this mother, the antagonist throughout this story, expects no less than excellence.
The first person narrator of the story is Jing-mei. She is also the protagonist in an ongoing fight for her to pursue her own desires with her mother. Jing-mei struggles to find herself. At first, she convinces herself that if she hurries, she can fulfill her mother’s expectations and ‘would soon become perfect” (Tan, Two Kinds, 2012, p. 336). However, the child-narrator in her coming of age attitude sets the tone when her mother and her butt heads. When she thinks the mother is ‘beginning to give up hope” (337). Jing-mei continues her fight ‘determined not to try” (338) and ‘determined to put a stop to her foolish pride” (339). The mother and daughter climatic moment occurs when Jing-mei selfishly yells ‘You want me to be someone that I’m not” (339). Tan allows the mother to stand her ground regarding the relationship between them two when she replies ‘Only two kinds of daughters. Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter” (339). Tan increases the mother daughter conflict using dramatic visualization as Jing-mei repeatedly defies the mother’s with the use of words like ‘disappointed”, ‘failed expectations”,
‘I had been sent to hell” and ‘I wish I were dead” (Tan, Two Kinds, 2012, p. 337-339). The mother’s comments to her daughter ‘because you not trying” (337) and ‘only ask you be your best” (337) poses a problem for the reader of whether to feel sympathy for the mother or daughter.
What the daughter perceives as being an unsatisfied and disappointed mother is Tan’s use of irony. It is not until the end of this short story that the daughter realizes that her mother was not controlling or demanding for the sake of Chinese custom, but was only exhibiting a mother’s hope that her daughter would be someone great. Tan affirms this near the end as the mother reminds her thirty year old daughter ‘you could been genius if you want to” (Tan, Two Kinds, 2012, p. 340).
The most important moment of the story occurs in the last paragraph as the daughter ‘for the first time” notices the music pieces she rehearsed as a child (Tan, Two Kinds, 2012, p. 340). Tan dramatizes the irony further when Jing-mei, after the death of her mother, notices the two songs on the piano, ‘Pleading Child” (340) and ‘Perfectly Contented” (340) that are symbolic of the daughter’s growth from a child to an adult. She realizes the pieces ‘were two halves of the same song” (340) just as she and her mother were. As the mother’s character was seemingly over bearing, she and her mother wanted the same thing. They both wanted the best in life for Jing-mei.
‘Tan’s chronological organization of the story allowed the reader to see the conflicts emerge and resolve as Jing-mei grew into an adult.” (Scofield, Robert, 2012). This story was not about the cultural differences between Chinese and Americans as one might expect, but more about a mother daughter relationship. Tan writes ‘because it is about the meaning of my life” (Tan, NEA Big Read: Meet Amy Tan, 2010). When we read this story as a chapter in ‘The Joy Luck Club”, ‘Two Kinds” completes Tan’s collection of stories that are about hope and the way she looked at the world. I liked this story because I connected with Jing-mei at first and felt sorry for her. However, half way through the story, I began to feel sad for the mother after Jing-mei began behaving selfishly and defiantly by not putting her best foot forward. As short as the story was, it created an emotional struggle for me.
At first I could not understand why the mother would force a child into extracurricular activities of which she had no interest. I thought the mother was living vicariously through her daughter. Much later, I understand why the mother was doing all in her power to push Jing – Mei to be perfect. It was because the mother’s upbringing in China was most probably the same or similar to Jing – Mei’s and it is ingrained in the mother for her to raise her kids like this as well because she knows that is what ultimately leads to success. The story did not change my perspective on mother daughter relationships because all mothers raising daughters have unique coming of age stories. This story at times did sound an awful lot like my childhood growing up and I could not help but to see that. Every relationship between parent and child is unique however, none are as different as an Asian household.
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